Congratulations to Phi Beta Kappa Initiate, Simone Duval!

198906_10150098050116710_698046709_6753906_2476709_nWe would like to offer congratulations to Simone Duval, a 2014 Journalism and Latin American Studies double-major from Shaker Heights, Ohio, who will be initiated into Alpha of North Carolina Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Duval will be initiated at the Spring initiation ceremony, which will be held on April 14, 2014.

Simone is fluent in Spanish, and has had various experiences working with research, the media and with Spanish-speaking populations. Simone is also the DJ for Radio Latijam for summer 2013; Radio Latijam is a community Spanish language radio program based in Carrboro and sponsored by the UNC School of Journalism. The program’s goal is to cater to Latino youth in the community.

Phi Beta Kappa is the nation’s oldest and most honored college honorary society. Membership is open to undergraduates in the college and professional degree programs who meet stringent eligibility requirements. A student who has completed 75 hours of course work with a GPA of 3.85 or better (on a 4-point scale) is eligible for membership. Also eligible is any student who has completed 105 hours of course work in the liberal arts and sciences with a 3.75 GPA. Grades earned at other universities are not considered. Less than 1 percent of all college students qualify.

Past and present Phi Beta Kappa members from across the country have included 17 American presidents and numerous artistic, intellectual and political leaders. Seven of the nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices are members. Phi Beta Kappa has 280 chapters nationwide. UNC’s chapter, Alpha of North Carolina, was founded in 1904 and is the oldest of seven chapters in the state.

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Garcia to examine how black music’s African origins was understood in mid-20th century

UNC associate professor of music David Garcia will examine how black music’s African origins was understood in the mid-20th century with a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

The grant will support Garcia’s book project, “The Logic of Black Music’s Africa Origins: Music, Africa and Race in the Mid-Twentieth Century.”

Click here to read the whole article


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Vargas wants students to leave with “cultural competence”

As of July 2012, people of Latino origin were the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority, constituting 17 percent of the nation’s total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But, despite decades of a growing Latino population, you can probably count the faculty teaching Latino studies around the country on your fingers, said Lucila Vargas.

She is one of them. And through Latijam – Latino journalism and media at Carolina – Vargas has been working to build a new generation that understands how to write about – and for – the Latino community around them.

“The field is growing and so is the Latino population. How can you cover a group you don’t understand?” Vargas said. “That need increases, and not only in North Carolina. If you take a job in Texas, you’re going to need this.”

Despite an increasing presence in American life, Vargas has seen efforts to cover Latino issues come and go, showing momentary interest in the culture. She wants there to be dependable, consistent coverage that is absent of the negative stereotypes that still permeate the media.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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Fredy Grefa: From the Ecuadorian Amazon to Chapel Hill

Fredy Grefa with his son, Yutzu, walking on the UNC campus.

Fredy Grefa with his son, Yutzu, walking on the UNC campus.

It’s a long way geographically from the small town of Coca, Ecuador, located in the Amazon rainforest, to Chapel Hill.

But it’s a long journey symbolically too — one that Fredy Grefa, a current master’s student in UNC’s city and regional planning department, knows all too well.

Grefa grew up in Coca and is a member of the indigenous Quechua (Kichwa) culture. When oil companies began moving into the region in the 1970s, development happened very fast.

“There were a lot of issues related to land rights, environmental issues and societal impacts,” Grefa said. “Indigenous people were losing their land and being assimilated rapidly by Western society.”

Grefa knew he wanted to help his people, to figure out a way to encourage oil companies to give them a voice in decision-making.

His dad told him that in order to have opportunities in life that he needed to get an education.

Read the entire article here:

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Global Heels: Francisco Laguna-Correa, Mexico

Francisco Laguna-Correa. Photo by Kim Strong.

Francisco Laguna-Correa. Photo by Kim Strong.

Francisco Laguna-Correa is a PhD student in Hispanic studies and 19th century cultural studies, with a focus on Mexico. He is enrolled in the Department of Romance Languages in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences.

Where are you from and what is your country known for?

I am from Mexico City, a place known for many positive and negative stereotypes. I personally think of my city as a metropolis where you can find anything that you can imagine, from surreal bookstores and recondite restaurants to social demonstrations and significant social inequalities.

What languages do you speak?  I have studied several languages since middle school, including Latin, Greek, French, Italian, German and English. Thanks to the Institute for the Study of the Americas at Carolina, I was able to spend last summer at Yale University studying Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, which currently has more than three million native speakers throughout Mexico.

Why did you choose to study in the United States? And why at UNC?

I earned two Master’s degrees (one in philosophy and another in social anthropology) at the Autonomous University of Madrid in Spain. While I was in Madrid, I heard about Duke University, but after looking at the profiles of the faculty of Duke and UNC I decided that UNC was the better choice for me, mostly because the UNC Romance languages faculty carries out research that aligns with my intellectual interests. In fact, UNC was my top choice because I wanted to work with Juan Carlos González-Espitia, associate professor of Spanish.

What unique perspectives do you feel you bring to your classrooms as an international student?

I feel that my experience as a transnational student helps me to bring different intellectual perspectives and methodologies to the classroom. I started my college studies in Mexico City at the National University of Mexico (UNAM), where I acquired a passion for intellectual and social resistance, and, foremost, to pursue a more egalitarian distribution of power in our societies. Besides UNAM, I have studied at the University of Barcelona, Portland State University, the Autonomous University of Madrid, and now at UNC-Chapel Hill. Throughout all of these years of study, I have met and worked with many professors and fellow students, and this has allowed me to become more aware of the multiplicity of backgrounds and life experiences that can converge in our societies.

Which course at UNC have you enjoyed the most and why?

I really enjoyed the seminars “Poïesis in Latin American” taught by Juan Carlos González-Espitia, associate professor of Spanish, and “Indigenous Literatures in Latin America” taught by Emilio del Valle-Escalante, associate professor of Spanish. Both of these professors were able to transmit a deep passion for the subjects while engaging the class in crucial discussions about the past and future of the Latin American societies (including the United States).

What do you like best about UNC, and how is it different from universities in your home country?

I really like the funding opportunities that UNC offers to graduate students. In Mexico, these opportunities go almost exclusively to faculty.

What do you like best about living in Chapel Hill, and how is it different from your hometown?

Mexico City is very big and hectic most of the time, with something different to do every day. For instance, you can find a book presentation almost daily in Mexico City. Chapel Hill is quieter, thus offering more time to rest and study without many distractions. I also write fiction, so the suburban setting of Chapel Hill provides me with the time to work on my creative writing. Since I entered UNC, I have received three major literary awards, including the National Literary Prize of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language (ANLE) in 2012 for my book of flash-fictions Finales felices, and the International Poetry Prize “Desiderio Macías Silva” for my “broken novel” Ría Brava/Ría Grande, awarded by the Mexican publishing house Azafran y Cinabrio.

What have been the most significant challenges in adjusting to life in Chapel Hill and as a student at UNC?

I am used to and enjoy living in big cities, where you see lots of buildings and tons of cars, where you breathe and feel the burst of energy in the streets. Chapel Hill is an ideal place to devote yourself to your studies, but it lacks the combustion and intensity of a metropolis.

Which campus activities do you most enjoy at UNC?

I really enjoy going to the concerts organized by Carolina Performing Arts, the venue is great and the artists that UNC brings are internationally recognized. This is a great opportunity that UNC offers to us, and as a student you can get tickets for just $10 dollars. I have already bought tickets for this season and I will be attending four concerts during the fall semester, including a performance by Wynton Marsalis.

If you could introduce student activities from your hometown to UNC students, what would they be?

At the National University of Mexico students are definitely more politically involved. We used to organize peaceful demonstrations and write petitions on a regular basis, sometimes every week. I wish that UNC undergrads were more interested and involved in the social and political issues that affect our community, not just in the Chapel Hill area, but also in Durham and Raleigh. There are lots of social inequalities that I believe college students can attempt to address while in school. It is not necessary to finish our studies before we try to make a change in our societies.

Why should international students consider attending UNC? What advice would you offer an incoming international student?

Students overseas should consider coming to UNC because it is a top notch public institution that fosters innovative research in both the humanities and sciences. The UNC campus is beautiful, it has an old touch, however the facilities are modern and well-equipped. UNC also offers many great opportunities to international students, such as funding, study groups, and research activities amongst others.

What are you currently reading?

Besides the readings that I do to prepare for my oral and written exams, I am also reading False Stories by the Angolan writer Gonçalo Tavares and Pájaros en la boca by Argentinean Samanta Schweblin.

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Guanajuato Connections: Experiencing the global South

guileBeyond the headlines and policy papers about Mexican immigrants are the lives of men and women, boys and girls. Helping Carolina students better understand the human complexities of immigration is the mission of UNC’s Latino Migration Project.

The Project builds ties between Chapel Hill and the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, where many North Carolina immigrants have originated. It offers UNC students two programs — APPLES Global Course Guanajuato and Project Guanajuato — which provide a “transformative experience” involving service learning, global travel, internships and the development of close ties between UNC students, local immigrants and their families in Mexico, according to Hannah Gill, director of the Project.

Guile Contreras ’14 (photographed above), whose parents are from El Salvador, grew up in Siler City, N.C. He participated in Project Guanajuato the summer after his first year at Carolina and became a trip leader the following summer.

“Students who go through Project Guanajuato get a new image of Mexico,” says Contreras. “In the long term, they have a better understanding of immigrants and why people emigrate, beyond [just] talking about it in class.”

Read the entire article here:


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Latino Migration Project Community Partner Receives White House Recognition

Alvena HegginsAlvena Heggins, a community partner of UNC’s Latino Migration Project, will be recognized today at 1pm at an award ceremony at the White House honoring leaders across the nation who work to integrate immigrants civically, linguistically and socially into their neighborhoods. Heggins is the City of High Point Human Relations Director and has worked with the Latino Migration Project’s Building Integrated Communities initiative since 2009.

Building Integrated Communities is a statewide initiative that helps North Carolina local governments successfully engage with immigrants and refugee populations in order to improve public safety, promote economic development, enhance communication, and improve relationships.
Hannah Gill, Director of the Latino Migration Project, said, “We are delighted that these important efforts of creating equitable and inclusive communities in North Carolina are receiving national recognition. Engaged scholarship at UNC is dependent on strong partnerships with visionary community leaders across the state like Al Heggins.”
Alvena Heggins’ official bio on the White House site and a description of this work can be accessed at
The Latino Migration Project provides research and educational expertise on Latin American and Latino immigration and integration issues in North Carolina. It is a program of the Institute for the Study of the Americas and the Center for Global Initiatives at UNC Chapel Hill. For more information, visit
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Evelyne Huber Book Recognized

University of North Carolina political scientists Evelyne Huber and John D. Stephens garnered two prestigious awards this summer for their recently published book Democracy and the Left: Social Policy and Inequality in Latin America (University of Chicago Press, 2012).

Huber is Morehead Alumni Distinguished Professor of Political Science and chair of the UNC Department of Political Science and Stephens is Gerhard E. Lenski Jr. Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology and director of the Center for European Studies. Their book Democracy and the Left won the Best Book Award from the Political Economy of the World System (PEWS) Section of the American Sociological Association and the Best Book Award from the Sociology of Development Section of the American Sociological Association.

In their award announcement, the PEWS team noted, “This book is an exemplary piece of scholarship illustrating the power of multi-method designs, cross-national and historical comparison, and robust theory.”

In Democracy and the Left, Huber and Stephens explore politics, social policy, inequality and economics in Latin America. They find that over the longer run democracy and left parties in government have a large impact on social policy, shaping policy such as to reduce poverty and inequality.

The book adds to their joint oeuvre, which includes the previously published books Development and Crisis of the Welfare State: Parties and Policies in Global Markets (University of Chicago Press, 2001) and Capitalist Development and Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 1992), coauthored with Dietrich Rueschemeyer.

For more information about Huber and Stephens, visit their joint website.

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UNC Doctors Provide Care for Children with Disabilities in Haiti

Source: UNC Global News

Joshua Alexander Haiti

Joshua Alexander, director of pediatric rehabilitation at the North Carolina Children’s Hospital and associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, with patients in Haiti.

Joshua Alexander, director of pediatric rehabilitation at the North Carolina Children’s Hospital and associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at UNC School of Medicine, spent a week in May 2013 helping to care for children with disabilities at the Zanmi Beni Children’s Home in Haiti. UNC  resident physician Nicole Forsyth assisted him with his work.

The Zanmi Beni Children’s Home, operated by Partners in Health, serves physically and mentally disabled orphans who were displaced by  the January 2010 earthquake. Alexander first heard about the children’s home through the University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ Global Arts Program, which was planning a trip there for UNCSA students, including Alexander’s daughter.

“When I found out that this children’s home was founded to serve children with disabilities, I felt called to help,” he said.

During his week-long trip to Haiti, Alexander discussed care, nursing and therapy issues with the home’s staff and, in conjunction with the non-profit Operation Blessing, he held a clinic for children brought from distant villages. He also helped the students traveling with him in Haiti to become comfortable feeding and playing with children with disabilities. Additionally, he delivered a lecture on the treatment of children with cerebral palsy to therapists, nurses and other care providers from across the country and, separately, toured Partners in Health’s new hospital in Mirebelais, Haiti.

Alexander hopes to return to Zanmi Beni with more specialized equipment and a larger group of care providers including medical residents, feeding experts, physical therapists and occupational therapists. He envisions developing care plans for the disabled children there and throughout Haiti.

“As a big supporter of telemedicine and tele-health, I’d also love to have funding to support the development of an online knowledge transfer program to keep providers in Haiti connected with those in the States and vice versa,” he said. He has tentatively set a fundraising goal of $10,000 towards this goal and to help fund his next trip.

Traveling to Haiti enriched Alexander’s perspective on health and wealth both here and abroad. “In Haiti, I saw so many examples of people living in poor conditions. I saw streets that had potholes the size of a small car, houses made of three crumbling walls and a broken tin roof and unsanitary food and water. But despite these poor conditions, none of the people seemed angry or resentful. I saw more smiles in Haiti during the week I was there than I see back here in the States in perhaps half a year,” he said. “It made me so much more appreciative of all that we have here in the States while making me reconsider what it means to be truly wealthy.”

Tax-deductible charitable gifts made to the N.C. Children’s Promise enabled Alexander and Forsyth to make the trip and bring the needed supplies and equipment.

To help support Alexander’s future endeavors caring for disabled children in Haiti, visit the N.C. Children’s Promise’s secure giving page. Select “Children’s Promise Fund (3427)” from the dropdown menu, enter your gift amount, and then type “Haiti13” into the appeal code box under “Gift Details.”


For more information about the May 2013 trip, visit Alexander’s blog.

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ISA Funds Doctoral Student to Present at Latin American Studies Association Conference

Doctoral student Erik Vergel presented the paper, “Impacts of Bus Rapid Transit BRT systems on urban expansion areas and community based organizations: a comparative case study of Quito and Bogota” at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) Conference 2013 in Washington, DC. His presentation was part of the panel “Neighborhood Vulnerability & Community Innovation: Exploring Urban Resilience in the Latin American City.”



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