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UCSB Makes History With World’s First Chicano Studies Ph.D.s

The world's first Chicano Studies Ph.D.s: From left, Thomas Avila Carrasco, José G. Anguiano Cortez, and Jessie Turner. The three students were recognized at the Graduate Division Commencement ceremony in June. Photo credit: Patricia MarroquinUC Santa Barbara’s Chicana and Chicano Studies Department made history this summer, and it’s an achievement that has been at least 30 years in the making. In June, three students participated in Graduate Division’s Commencement ceremony, becoming among the first graduate students in the world to earn Ph.D.’s in Chicana and Chicano Studies.

The students are Jessie Turner, Thomas Avila Carrasco, and José G. Anguiano Cortez. Jessie received a spring 2012 degree, while Thomas and José are filing for summer 2012 degrees. For Jessie, José, and Thomas, this degree is a “family accomplishment,” “a collective achievement,” and one that instills “great pride.”

Update: Since publication of this article, the GradPost has learned that another grad student shares the distinction of being among the first to earn a Ph.D. in Chicana/o Studies this year. The GradPost congratulates Luis Moreno, who earned a Ph.D. in Chicano/Latino Studies from Michigan State University in Spring 2012. He is currently a lecturer at California State University, Channel Islands.

The idea for a Chicano Studies Ph.D. program at UCSB has multiple origins.

According to the Chicana/o Studies website, UCSB’s Chicana/o Studies program was born in the spring of 1969, the first such program in the UC system. A group of Chicano activists and intellectuals met on the campus and prepared the foundational document El Plan de Santa Barbara. The group generated an educational model for institutions of higher learning that would be more responsive to Chicanos and would provide a bridge for a new generation of Chicanos to higher education. This Plan was the intellectual model for the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies and continues to exert a strong influence on the discipline today.

It is said that in 1981, Dr. Luis Leal, a UCSB professor whose career spanned more than 50 years and who made significant contributions to the study and understanding of Mexico, Latin America, and Chicanos in the U.S., first suggested the creation of a Chicana/o Studies Ph.D. program. But the department was still small and a plan did not move ahead during the 1980s.

Credit: UCSB Living History Project/The IndependentFast forward to April 1994, when 9 Chicano/Latino UCSB students staged a 10-day hunger strike.

Their demands included the hiring of more Chicana/o Studies faculty (the strikers sought 15 FTE’s at a time when there were only 3.5); freezing tuition; maintaining Building 406 (also known as El Centro, home to the Chicana/o student group, El Congreso, and original site of the Chicana/o Studies Department, the Chicano Studies Institute, and the Chicano Studies Library); the opening of a community center in Isla Vista; campus observance of the United Farm Workers union’s table grape boycott; increased recruitment and retention of Chicanos/ Latinos from the local tri-county area (Chicano/Latino undergraduate students represented 10% of the campus then); and creation of a Chicana/o Studies Ph.D. program. The strike was settled with an agreement signed outside Cheadle Hall, according to Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval, Associate Professor of Chicana/o Studies.

In the wake of the strike, students and faculty began to draft plans for the Ph.D. program, Armbruster-Sandoval said. He said the first complete proposal was drafted in the late 1990s, but it took years to proceed through bureaucratic channels, with the plan finally gaining approval in 2003. The first cohort of students began the program in fall 2005.

Today the Chicana/o Studies Department has 11 faculty members and about 5 lecturers. The percentage of Chicano/Latino undergraduates on the UCSB campus has risen from 10% in 1994 to nearly 25% today, Armbruster-Sandoval said. And the department now has about 25 grad students pursuing master’s and Ph.D. degrees.

“From idea to first Ph.D.’s, you could say it took 30 years – a long time,” said Armbruster-Sandoval. He said that since UCSB founded its Ph.D. program, others have been established across the country, for example at Michigan State University and, more recently, at UCLA.

Dr. Leal didn’t live to see the dream of the first Ph.D.s become reality. He died in 2010 at the age of 102, and today the UCSB Chicana/o Studies Luis Leal Endowed Chair is held by the department’s chair, Dr. Aida Hurtado.

The GradPost caught up with Jessie, José, and Thomas, and asked them to tell us what this historic achievement means to them.  Read on. …


Jessie’s dissertation title is "Mixed and Mixed: Inheritance and Intersectionality in the Identity Formation and Identity Migration of People with Mexican and Other Ethnoracial Backgrounds." Her doctoral chair was Chicana/o Studies Associate Professor Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval. This month, Jessie begins employment as a full-time permanent instructor of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Florida, where she’ll be a member of the Status of Latinos (SOL) presidential advisory committee.  Here’s what the Ph.D. means to her:

“This achievement and degree hold various levels of meaning. To begin with, as the first in my very large family to have received a B.A., to now receive a Ph.D. is really a family accomplishment that references my forebears' sacrifices and support. Second, I am someone who identifies as multiracial/ethnic (White, Mexican, and U.S. Indigenous), and so to be in the first cohort of Ph.D. graduates in Chicana and Chicano Studies is significant because it speaks to the fact that the field and community are both broader and more nuanced than some may either know or wish to admit.

“There is a growing body of literature that speaks to the experiences of people with both Mexican and other ethnoracial ancestries, though the population itself is, of course, not new. The great majority of this work, however, exists outside of Chicana and Chicano Studies programs and venues, so it is significant politically that my work on this topic comes from within this department.” 


José G. Anguiano Cortez’s working dissertation title is "Latino Listening Cultures: Affect, Community, and Resilience in Latino Music Practices." His doctoral chair is Maria Herrera-Sobek. José has been teaching part time at California State University, Los Angeles. Here’s what he told the GradPost:

“I am honored to be part of a program and degree that the Latino community has been working towards since the 1960s. I view my personal accomplishment as a collective achievement that wouldn't have been possible without community activists, student hunger strikes, visionary artists, supportive family, and talented academic mentors. I came to this program to research Latino communities and serve as an educator. I hope to pave the way for the next generation of students, activists, and artists.

“I believe the field of Chicana/o Studies has never been more relevant given the changing demographics of the country. As a nation we need more discussion, training, and awareness of the opportunities and challenges.

“Many studies have concluded the future of the state and the nation depends on Chicanos and Latinos in terms of academic achievement, as a tax base and labor force – not to mention important artistic and cultural contributions. Chicana/o Studies at UCSB provides critical education and research on Chicano/Latino communities that enriches the education of all students and shapes future policy. 

“Supporting Chicana/o Studies means supporting the well-being of all.”


Thomas Avila Carrasco’s working dissertation title is "Oppositional Performance: A Social-Historical Analysis of the Avant-Garde Comedy Troupe Chicano Secret Service." Thomas’ doctoral co-chairs are Mario T. Garcia (Chicana/o Studies) and George Lipsitz (Black Studies & Sociology). Thomas was offered a tenure-track full-time position at Santa Barbara City College and will begin teaching there this fall. He will be joining the American Ethnic Studies Department at the college. Here’s what he told the GradPost:

“Becoming a Doctor of Philosophy in Chicano Studies has impacted me on a personal level and has also impacted the communities that I come from. I am born and raised in Oxnard, California. Students and community members from Oxnard have been involved with campus politics since the 1960s. It brings great pride to our community that I am one of the first Chicanos to earn a Ph.D. in Chicana/o Studies.

“Becoming a Doctor of Philosophy in Chicana/o Studies has allowed me to gain an expertise in documenting, describing, and analyzing Chicana/o cultural production and Chicana/o history. In the spirit of telling untold histories and revealing hidden histories with the goal of empowering the communities of Chicana/os is one of the biggest achievements that comes along with this accomplishment.

Thomas Avila Carrasco, right, with co-chair Dr. George Lipsitz. “It also reveals the historical moment that the University of California, Santa Barbara, is at. At this time the Department of Chicana/o Studies conducts the largest introduction to Chicano Studies classes in the nation. Chicana/o culture/history is American culture/history. It is exciting to be part of the changing American cultural landscape in an ancient and contemporary context. This degree represents American society at its best, revealing the syncretic process where Meso-American and European cultures that intersect/evolve to create new cultural inventions.

“Chicana/o Studies is a discipline that creates new forms of knowledge to solve problems in society and empower populations that have not been historically part of the American scholarly world. It is in this spirit that a Ph.D. in Chicana/o Studies brings to the local, national, and global perspective of UCSB students to create citizens of the world.”


Congratulations to Jessie, José, and Thomas on their history-making achievement!

 (If you’d like to give to the Chicana/o Studies Ph.D. program, or to other UCSB graduate education programs, please visit Graduate Division’s Giving page.)


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