a Burgeoning Local Community: CUNY's Dominican Studies Institute
he Dominican Studies Institute came into being less than ten years ago, a difficult time for the City University. Budget-crunching was in the air, and tuition hikes, hiring freezes, downsizing, and restructuring had become the order of the day. Such was the institutional climate when the University's Dominicans made a reasonable request. They urged CUNY to create a research unit devoted to the mission of gathering, producing, and disseminating data on the experience of their people in the United States and elsewhere. Dominicans, after all, represented one of the city's largest ethnic communities.
The first crucial meeting took place at 80th Street in the fall of 1990, Chancellor W. Ann Reynolds having succeeded Joseph Murphy. Donald Smith of Baruch College, head of CUNY's African-American Network, and Lehman College's Edgar Rodriguez, chair of the Puerto Rican Council on Higher Education, came with faculty members Ramona Hernandez of LaGuardia Community College and this writer, from Hostos Community College, both as officers of the Council of Dominican Educators. On the table was a jointly authored position paper addressing the educational needs of our respective communities.
The concept paper's
call for a Dominican research initiative particularly attracted the
Chancellor because it described the most alarming situation. Only
two Dominicans then held permanent positions on the University faculty,
in contrast to the already sizable presence of Dominicans in CUNY
classrooms. Experience of their culture was served only by the occasional
"Dominican heritage" course taught by an adjunct. Dominicans
did not even appear in the ethnic reference sources in CUNY libraries.
When we met with the Chancellor, the election of the first Dominican
to the City Council (Guillermo Linares) and of another to the State
Assembly (Adriano Espaillat) had not yet taken place. But the figures
we presented commanded attention. The increase of the city's-and the
University's-Dominican population was already a clear trend. According
to fall 1998 data, Hispanics made up 22% of the total enrollment in
the senior colleges and 32% in the community colleges, with Dominicans
constituting the largest share of that growth. Dominicans outnumbered
all segments of the Latino, Latin American, and Caribbean student
population at BCC, BMCC, City, LaGuardia, Lehman, and Hostos Colleges,
while occupying second or third place on six other campuses.
Among distinguished participants in its functions have been Haiti's president Jean Bertrand Aristide, former Dominican president Juan Bosch, the prominent Caribbean poet and historian Kamau Bruthwaite, the best selling Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat, award-winning Dominican-American writers Julia Alvarez, Junot Diaz and Rhina Espaillat, as well as many prominent intellectuals from the Dominican Republic and top U.S. experts on Dominican topics. The Institute has earned induction into the Inter-University Program for Latino Research (IUPLR), a nation-wide consortium of 13 major university-based Latino research enterprises, headquartered at the University of Notre Dame. Serving as a residency site for the Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellowships program, DSI hosted ten resident scholars between 1996 and 1999.
notable among publications sponsored by DSI is The Dominican Republic: A National
History by the leading Dominican historian, Frank Moya Pons (1995). It is the
first major Dominican history in English to appear since Sumner Welles's Naboth's
Vineyard of 1928. Sarah Aponte's Dominican Migration to the United States, 1970-
1997: An Annotated Bibliography appeared last year; she is DSI's librarian and
administrative coordinator. This year, as part of its Foundational Documents Series,
the Institute published Daisy Cocco De Filippis' Documents of Dissidence: Selected
Writings by Dominican Women, an English-language compilation of non-fiction prose
by Dominican women from 1849 through the 1990s. De Filippis, the holder of three
CUNY degrees, has taught at York College since 1978.
With its modest yearly allocation not rising significantly, bringing the Dominican Studies Institute to its present level of activity has required ingenuity. High hopes are present, however, as a search commenced this fall for the position of a director the Institute can call its own. Last November the Institute received word from the Rockefeller Foundation of a $76,000 grant to support a two-part transnational conference to be held in New York and Santo Domingo this June. Titled "Up from the Margins: Diversity as Challenge to the Democratic Nation," the conference will convene Chicano, Puerto Rican, African-American, Cuban, and Dominican scholars, artists, and activists to explore the interplay of diversity and democracy. The conference will complement the Dominican Institute's primary goal, which I expressed to Chairman of the Board of Trustees Herman Badillo when I appeared as a guest on his CUNY TV program, Education Forum, in November. This is to help New York learn about itself. For there is no stopping the continued growth of Dominicans as an ever larger component of the city's population.