When I first met Dr. Stuart Voss and the Latin American studies girls, my head was spinning. Like many before me, I was skeptical of this whole thing, “What exactly is Latin American studies?” An even louder thought rattled in my head as I signed the paperwork to add it as a major, “How will this help my career?”
The following semester, I attended my first class with Dr. Voss and the other Latin American studies majors. The structure of the class was unlike anything I had taken before. Because it is a small major, there were only six of us. I quickly learned that this was special. The group became tight-knit and sharing our knowledge felt so comfortable. The class served as a second home and it is something I was truly proud to have been a part of.
Many colleges offer programs focused on certain regions and groups. These programs are often referred to as regional studies or area studies. Alongside Latin American studies, SUNY Plattsburgh offers Africana, Asian, Canadian and even Québec studies as minors.
Area studies can vary in different schools and even between programs. They are highly unique and specialized. My program incorporates the language, history, culture, politics and current affairs of Latin America. These topics are more likely to be covered in your typical area studies program.
A characteristic that is unique to the SUNY Plattsburgh Latin American studies program is its focus on diplomacy, rhetoric, inquiry, and argumentation. These topics are sprinkled throughout core classes but strengthened in one in particular: Organization of the American States. The SUNY Plattsburgh catalog states, “Preparation includes learning the foreign policy of a Latin American-Caribbean nation and the structure/operation of the Organization of the American States, creating resolutions, verbal argumentation, reading and abstracting documents, questioning diplomatic representatives.” For context, this class is centered around a yearly event called the Washington Model Organization of the American States. In the same way that many colleges offer Model United Nations clubs, the Washington Model Organization of the American States functions as the university-tier simulation of the Organization of the American States.
The professor of this class, Dr. Voss, is an expert on all facets relating to Latin America and the Organization of the American States. Additionally, his curriculum is tailored to be life-changing. Dr. Voss firmly believes in the idea of “jumping in,” whether you have fears or not.
Within the first weeks of this course, the six of us sat in front of our laptop cameras interviewing Organization of the American States diplomats from Jamaica, Saint Kitts & Nevis and Argentina over Zoom. A few weeks later, we were writing legislation and learning how to defend our work. We then met with dozens of students from around the world and put our skills to use at the Washington Model. Not to mention, we also became highly skilled in creating abstracts.
Jessica Skelly, a senior at SUNY Plattsburgh, is double majoring in nursing and Latin American studies. When asked about her experiences within the program she said:
“How many people in their 20s can say they debated with ambassadors and have truly developed the idea of diplomacy? The truth is, not many, and I hope the experiences of this program help others realize how valuable it is… Latin American studies brought me to Washington D.C and allowed me to work with some of the brightest collegiate minds from across the globe. This gave me a prime opportunity to hear the experiences of others and foster a number of working relationships, which is a hot commodity in today’s society.”
Jessica’s sentiments match my own. The amount of personal and professional growth that Latin American studies helped me foster still amazes me today. This is due to Dr. Voss and the outstanding professors of the program, but also the overall nature of studying something off the beaten path. There is something very powerful about taking the time to learn a culture, history or language that is not your own. You begin to find the intersectionality of seemingly separate things, and regardless of what academic background you start from, area studies can broaden your perspective. Jessica Skelly noted:
“LAS has helped me concentrate my focus and hone in on my goals that go far beyond the scope of simply attaining a career that will last me until retirement. I have learned the importance of expanding my horizons and the ability to overcome obstacles along the way.”
When I entered college, I thought I would leave to go to law school. This was a career path I had formed for myself in high school and for a long time, these goals were part of my identity. This changed when I went into Latin American studies. Slowly, I rediscovered myself, while learning about the vast, complex and beautiful Latin America.
For a moment in my college career, time stopped. I had shrugged off the goals I had once set for myself and instead held in my hands the tools necessary to find new goals. The truth is, I didn’t want to be a lawyer, but I didn’t have the confidence to admit it to myself. That was until I built confidence alongside my peers and with the help of my professors in Latin American studies.
This semester, I returned to SUNY Plattsburgh for a degree in TV-Video Production. At my core, I love movies, writing and creating things. Best of all, I now get to combine all of my scholarships into one focused direction that I have discovered for myself.
On her final note, Jessica said:
“I could go on and on about the assets that LAS provides, but, I want to emphasize this; while it’s true that those of us in the program have learned a lot about Latin America, the skills we have attained along the way are what will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”
If you or someone you know is interested in the Latin American studies program here at SUNY Plattsburgh, please reach out to Dr. Justin Lowry, our program coordinator.