Deja Whitt, a senior public relations major, declared the Latin American and Latino/a Studies (LALS) minor just this year, but her enthusiasm for the program began much earlier.

Since leaving her hometown of Calumet Park, a south suburb of Chicago, in 2014 to begin her college career, Whitt has taken a variety of courses in LALS, attended countless program events hosted by LALS, and served as a teaching assistant for two courses in the minor. Outside of the minor, Whitt dedicates her time to her membership in Illinois State University’s Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, two jobs through the Alumni Center, and internship with Motivate Moms, LLC. Despite her busy schedule, Whitt was able to share her experience in the minor with us this month as our first Student Spotlight of the semester. Check out our interview to learn about her experience in the minor and why she wants you to join!

Latin American and Latino/a Studies: Tell me about yourself! What do you like to do?

Deja Whitt: I’m a proud part-time pet mom to my shih-tzu Stewart, annoying big sister, and movie buff! When I’m not working or in class you can probably find me watching Empire, re-reading Harry Potter or cooking. I’m also a member of the Illinois State University’s Chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America. Last year I served on the executive board, but this year I’m dedicating most of my time on campus to my two jobs at the Alumni Center! I work at the Telefund Calling Center as a fundraiser and at University Marketing and Communications as a communications assistant.

LALS: Before declaring a minor in Latin American and Latino/a Studies, you studied Spanish. Tell me about this experience. In what ways has declaring a Latin American and Latino/a Studies minor complimented your study of Spanish? Would you recommend this plan of study to other students? If yes, why?

DW: To fulfill some requirements for the Latin American and Latino/a Studies minor I took quite a few Spanish classes. I’ve studied the language since high school and it has definitely helped my understanding of a lot of the themes and concepts we learn about in the minor’s coursework. In Spanish classes here at Illinois State you don’t just learn the language, you study the people, their culture, the socio-economic challenges they face and so much more. You totally don’t need to speak Spanish to be a part of the minor, but as a non-Latinx, it helped deepen my understanding of the people I was learning about and that’s something that’s important to me.

LALS: What has been your favorite course you have taken for the Latin American and Latino/a Studies minor so far? Why was it your favorite? What did you learn?

DW: This is a tough question! I’ve loved all of the courses I’ve taken so far and I’ve learned so much during my time in the minor. If I had to choose though, Dr. Toro-Morn’s Introduction to Latin American and Latino Studies course was the class that gave me the foundation to take other classes in the minor. You get the chance to really study the U.S. Latinx population from a variety of angles. The concepts that I learned veered outside of what you expect from a traditional introductory course. The course touches on some really relevant and vital material. It counts for general education credit as well, so I definitely recommend it to everyone!

LALS: You have been a teaching assistant for Introduction to Latin American and Latino/a Studies (SOC 109) and History of Latin America (HIS 104A03), two core courses of the Latin American and Latino/a Studies minor. What did you learn from these experiences?

DW: Being a teaching assistant is one of my favorite ISU memories! I got the chance to work under both Dr. Toro-Morn and Dr. Cutter and I couldn’t have asked for two better mentors. You learn a ton being a teaching assistant— responsibility, time management, and how to communicate effectively with large audiences. Most importantly, it taught me to be an advocate for myself and to take charge of my learning. I think as college students we really underestimate how much we can learn from each other and our professors. You could be one class, conversation or conversation away from a achieving a goal— all it takes is your voice and a little courage.

LALS: Tell me about your current internship. What do you do and where? In what ways has Illinois State University, Spanish and Latin American and Latino/a Studies minors prepared you for this experience?

DW: I’m the Digital Media intern for Motivate Moms LLC. Our goal is to teach parents that by empowering themselves, they empower their children too. We step into the community and create programs that engage parents with each other, and with their children’s educational experience. Outside of technical skills like writing, my studies here, especially within the minor, have taught me how to truly connect with others. It has also taught me how to find common ground to solve problems to meet a goal that we share— and that’s exactly what we do at Motivate Moms.

LALS: What would you tell a student considering declaring the Latin American and Latino/a Studies minor?


LALS: What are your goals after graduation?

DW: I’m pursuing jobs with an emphasis on servicing communities and I’m hoping to do that through either agency or nonprofit public relations. My ultimate goal though is to start my own freelance public relations business. I’m really passionate about helping smaller businesses and companies—I like the intimacy of getting to work with clients one-on-one and help them achieve their dreams through their business.

To learn more about the minor and apply, please contact Acting Director Juliet Lynd or adviser Janet Claus and click apply now!