Since joining Illinois State University’s faculty in 2002, Douglas Cutter has witnessed and supported the growth of the Latin American and Latino/a Studies (LALS) program on campus.
Before moving to Illinois to work at Illinois State, Cutter grew up in New Mexico. During his childhood, Cutter also spent time living in Mexico and Spain. His experience of living in the Southwest and abroad exposed him to the unique experiences of Latin Americans and Latinos, and how their histories and people are commonly overlooked within the United States’ education system.
After helping his father conduct research in the Museo Naval archives in Madrid, Cutter was inspired to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in academia that would allow him to teach Latin American and Latino history. Cutter received his B.A. from Saint Mary’s University in San Antonio. Later, Cutter continued his education at the University of San Diego and then at the University of Arizona.
Today, Cutter teaches three courses for the LALS minor. This semester, Cutter is teaching History of Latin America (HIS: 104A03) and, for the very first time, the Introduction to Latin American and Latino/a Studies (SOC: 109). He also teaches Colonial Latin America (HIS: 282) which is only offered every four years.
In addition to teaching these courses, Cutter is a longtime advocate for the program. Along with assigning his students to attend LALS programming for credit, Cutter also frequently brings other faculty and students into his classes to talk to students about the LALS program, minor, and opportunities like study abroad.
In between teaching and attending LALS events, Cutter agreed to share his experience as a professor for LALS with us this month as our November Faculty Spotlight. Check out our conversation highlights to learn about why he wants students to become politically active, travel, and join the Latin American and Latino/a Studies minor!
On becoming a professor: “It’s kind of like the family business. My father, Donald Cutter, was a professor at the University of Southern California and then at the University of New Mexico teaching Borderlands and The Spanish Southwest history. My brother, Charles Cutter, teaches Latin American and Colonial Latin American History at Purdue University. I suppose we got into history because our father used to use the two of us to do research for him.
Living in Spain and Mexico obviously shaped my family. In addition to my brother and me working in Latin American history, one sister and brother each teach middle school and high school Spanish, and a sister who is a court translator in Albuquerque. When I was young, I always wanted to be a Spanish teacher but sometimes life leads you in other directions.”
On teaching Introduction to Latin American and Latino/a Studies (SOC 109) this semester: “Introduction to Latin American and Latino/a Studies has been a class that I have always wanted to teach. When I teach Latin American History I teach about Latin Americans, but not about Latinos. Now I get to teach about something that is a little closer to home. I don’t get a chance to teach Latino history or U.S history very often. When I do, like when I taught American Diversity (HIS 111), Latinos were the biggest component of that class. It was not just because I think they are important, or that I was teaching on my strengths, but too much of U.S. History has an East Coast bias. We teach U.S. History like it progressed from East to West; more of my focus is it went north from Mexico. As long as we use the East to West model, Latinos won’t play a central role in how we teach history—they are simply people that were encountered on the way west.”
On teaching: “This is my chamber of commerce approach to teaching: I want my students to want to travel, especially to Latin America. Hopefully, classes in the Latin American and Latino/a studies minor make students feel more comfortable about going to Latin America to appreciate the history and culture of those countries. As an added bonus, it’s less expensive to travel to and around Central America than it is in Europe. ”
On political activism: “I actually wrote this in my syllabus for Introduction to Latin American and Latino/a Studies. I really hope that they become politically active because we can’t affect important changes without the vote. Unfortunately, I think people’s interests get divided sometimes; but those differences and disagreements need to be set aside right now. We need to create alliances.”
On exposing students to LALS programming: “The importance of a liberal education is to be exposed to the world of ideas. Unless students attend events, listen to speakers or cultural presentations, they aren’t introduced to those ideas. My hope is that an interest in the wider world becomes something they continue pursuing throughout their lives. While I recognize that many students only attend events like these because it’s a class assignment, hopefully it will plant a seed, and that they will think about doing these things later on.”
On studying abroad: “It’s an important part of a well-rounded education. Each semester I have study abroad students come by to talk to my classes about it. Study abroad is an expense, and it might set some people back in their degree, but I think sometimes you have to ask yourself, ‘What kind of person you want to be?’ Do you want to be a person who just stayed at home, or do you want to be a person who went a visited the world? It changes you! It’s important to know that other people in the world view the world in a very different way than you do. That way you can be more sympathetic and empathetic toward different people.”
On students considering the Latin American and Latino/a studies minor: “I tell them that it is an excellent choice! I think it’s important, and not just for Latino students. A Latin American and Latino/a studies minor shows a kind of diversity that you have. The minor is eclectic because you can pick and choose the classes you take. You don’t have to take a particular class if you don’t want to. I tell my students that when they go out for a job this is something that can help them stand out.”
For more information about the minor, please contact Acting Director Juliet Lynd or adviser Janet Claus or see our website at LatinoStudies.IllinoisState.edu. You can apply for the minor directly from your My.IllinoisState.edu page.