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New master's program in bilingual journalism to start in fall 2021

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A new two-year Master of Arts degree in Bilingual Journalism has recently been unveiled by the University of Arizona’s School of Journalism, with a program start date in Fall of 2021. It will be one of the only graduate taught programs in bilingual journalism in the country, with a focus on coverage in Spanish and Portuguese languages and issues in the Latinx community. 

The program will be taught jointly with the School of Journalism and the Departments of Latin American Studies and Mexican American Studies and will be the first of a series of bilingual programs planned to be implemented at the graduate and undergraduate level in the fields of journalism, Latin American studies and global studies. 

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The School of Journalism’s Jessica Retis, a leading expert on bilingual journalism and bilingual training, was hired last year from California State Northridge to head the development of the master’s program.

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“We want to provide students with an interdisciplinary program that will advance their understanding of the history and also the culture of Latinx, Mexican American and other bilingual communities — not only in the United States, but also in Latin America and abroad,” Retis said. 

The program will have a unique focus on instruction of diversity-based topics and intercultural competence, skills believed necessary by Retis in order to cover stories and issues from multilingual, and multi-cultural communities. 

“When we say bilingual journalism, we don’t only mean bilingual in terms of language, but we also mean bicultural — a bicultural understanding of issues," Retis said. "The way we are planning on training grad students in this program is to reach the goal of having journalists who are better prepared to understand this diversity in society." 

The curriculum will combine cultural instruction with skills and experience-based learning, according to School of Journalism Director Carol Schwalbe. Two core classes: Latinx and the News Media in the United States, and Global Latinx: Diasporic Transnationalism & News Media in Latin America, Europe and Asia will focus on cultural education of Latinx issues, while Covering Latinx Affairs I & II will focus on instruction of audio and visual media coverage skills and techniques. 

Potential students will also complete a bilingual internship and take 18 units of elective credits, in courses taught by the School of Journalism and the Departments of Latin American Studies, Mexican American Studies and Spanish and Portuguese.

Students have an option to learn and cover the U.S. Mexico borderlands in a class taught by Celeste González de Bustamante, an Arizona journalism leader already teaching undergraduates in border coverage. Collaborations with the Arizona Daily Star, TV Azteca Tucson, Univision and Telemundo, among other international organizations are already underway – giving potential students with ample professional opportunities to practice journalism bilingually.  

To Retis, the increasing diversification of the US, and the growth of Latinx communities in the US and around the world demands an increasing need for multilingual coverage of multilingual issues. 

“The U.S. is becoming a more diverse country, and journalists are going to have a huge role in telling stories our diverse society can understand," Retis said. "We are talking about transnational news with transnational audiences, so being able to go back and forth in another language enables you to express ideas and cover different communities and talk to different audiences."

To Director Schwalbe, the program is about multi-cultural education, and also giving more agency to Latinx voices and Latinx community members. 

“Part of the goal is to have students to be able to report in two languages and have the cultural competency to know about the history and social cultural geography and political issues that are relevant to Latinx communities, here in Arizona, in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and even beyond in Latin America," Schwalbe said in a Zoom interview. "We also want this program to enable Latinx people tell their own stories, so people don’t have to tell them for them."

The new degree adds to the School of Journalism’s already storied history in bilingual reporting. In 1976, the school was one of the first American universities to publish a bilingual news journal, El Independiente. Now called El Inde, it still provides the UA community with bilingual news on a semester basis. 

“The J-school has had a long tradition of including diversity and inclusiveness into the curriculum, into research, into outreach and into the community," Schwalbe said. "And it also builds on the existing strength of the faculty, like with Celeste and Jessica, who have done a lot of work reporting in Latinx communities and in the U.S.-M.X. borderlands, and teaching students on how to report these issues."

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To Retis and university staff, the incredibly diverse community of Tucson also gives potential students an environment with ample opportunities to learn, work, and apply their lessons in multilingual and cultural reporting. 

“Tucson is a great example of a bilingual community with many populations. There is a very diverse set of opportunities for projects for new students in the program in Tucson,” Retis said.

To Retis and Schwalbe, Arizona’s designation as Hispanic Serving Institution from the U.S. Department of Education in 2018 also helped in the establishment of the bilingual masters, and in the planning to develop bilingual degree programs in the future. 

“The fact that the U of A Is a Hispanic Serving Institution means the university is supporting these types of programs that help increase the number of bilingual students on campus,” Retis said. 

Schwalbe concurred and added that the program is open to anyone. While there are 105 Hispanic Serving institutions across the country, this bilingual journalism degree upon implementation will still be among the only degrees of its kind. 

“There are many schools who have Spanish language programs, but they are either courses, minors, certificates, or very rarely, undergraduate programs," Schwalbe said. "I don’t know if there is anyone else that has, or will have a master’s program like this."


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