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New NMSU graduate certification explores critical and healing approaches to divisive social issues

  • By Amanda Adame
  • 575-646-7953
  • Oct 08, 2019
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The Borderlands and Ethnic Studies program at New Mexico State University, which is being piloted this Fall, is offering a multidisciplinary graduate certification that aims to educate graduate students - including local teachers - to build their capacity to help students explore issues that divide us as a nation.

Director of the program, Dulcinea Lara, points to headlines that demonstrate the increasing polarization of viewpoints across the country resulting in xenophobia, hatred, inhumane treatment of refugee and migrant populations, as well as mass shootings such as the recent tragedy in El Paso.

“We are trapped into thinking about phenomena in simplistic binarisms: ‘right or wrong’ ‘good or bad’ ‘legal or illegal.’ We have lost our ability to think critically and creatively when addressing minor or major issues. This makes us a decadent society-- both arrogant as well as in decay,” said Lara, NMSU associate professor of criminal justice and director of ethnic studies. “We cannot move forward with any healthy outcomes until we break with our dualistic thinking patterns and learn to view issues from multiple and infinite sides. The notion that there are ‘two sides to every story’ is incredibly limiting.”

“Once we open up past these psychological and intellectual barriers, we can start to understand why young white boys are enraged to the point of massacre. We can start to understand why migrants are fleeing beloved hometowns to make incredibly treacherous journeys. We can start to understand the hatred, fear, anxiety, and desire to divide and conquer based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, etc.”

NMSU developed the program in response to a resolution passed by the Las Cruces School District, which promotes development of an ethnic studies curriculum for all K-12 schools.
In response, NMSU created a 15-credit graduate certificate offered through the Department of Criminal Justice in the College of Arts and Sciences.

While a major goal is to prepare current and future public school teachers for a holistic way of teaching, the program also addresses a growing need for knowledge in the areas of cultural competency and problem solving among diverse populations in fields such as law enforcement, health, law and policy, business and social entrepreneurship. The course is available traditionally and also online, which allows access to teachers and graduate students across the country.

Lara says other states are also creating mandates for ethnic studies in K-12 schools. “The problem is there are not enough teachers equipped to provide this education in the first place. I’m excited the online portion of the program can offer cohorts of teachers from various places in the United States the opportunity to get this certificate and promote this field of education.”

Carlos Avila, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at Zia Middle School in Las Cruces and current student in the program, says this education will help teachers and students inside and outside the classroom. “This program is so important because we need to understand social structures and power dynamics in our world. We all need to be aware so we can challenge the norms of our society.”

The certification may be taken as part of a master’s or doctoral program at NMSU. In addition to Lara, Manal Hamzeh, professor of interdisciplinary studies/gender & sexuality studies, Nicholas Natividad, criminal justice associate professor, and Donald Pepion, college professor of anthropology, are among the core faculty for the program.

According to Lara, the documented success rate for students enrolled in ethnic studies courses Kindergarten through college in other states and school districts is an added benefit.

“There’s a correlation between the number of ethnic studies classes a student takes and graduation rates, success rates, and increased GPA, because the idea is that an ethnic studies program creates a better sense of wholeness and a better-formed and prepared student in general.”

Offering this certification to train teachers, K-12, Lara said, is an important first step toward helping the next generation of people living in the U.S. better understand each other.

“To help students recognize and navigate viewpoints that may not match their own and to work with others ‘unlike themselves,’ we can build a more well-rounded and healthy society.”

For more information about the Borderlands and Ethic Studies Program, contact Lara at