Mission and History

Our Mission

To encourage and sponsor interdisciplinary research, teaching, service, and outreach activities directed toward exploring and understanding the experiences of African Americans, Latinos, and Native peoples of Nebraska, the United States, and the Americas. This mission includes and is enhanced by African Studies, Latin American Studies, and the study of indigenous peoples of the world.

Our History

Established in the spring of 1972, the Institute for Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln had its origin in the larger social changes of the 1960s, which included the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War protests, and the demand by students of color for high-quality education.  

At UNL, a number of initiatives had been implemented to address this demand. As one of the three campuses involved in the U.S. Office of Education's Tri-University Project launched in 1967, UNL participated in the recruitment of ethnically diverse post-doctoral and pre-doctoral students who could serve as role models and teachers.   

The curriculum was already changing in response to student demands and faculty interests. In 1968, the Departments of English, History, and Sociology joined together to teach the course The Negro in American Society. 

In 1969, members of the African American Collegiate Society presented administrators with a list of 12 demands, including the creation of a Black Studies program. 

In 1970, Ralph Grajeda taught the first Chicano literature course at UNL. During the 1971-1972 academic year, the Centennial Education Program, in conjunction with Rosebud Reservation, allowed students to study Lakota Sioux culture and language.

These varied initiatives coalesced with the formation of academic programs focused on issues of diversity and ethnicity. In 1971, UNL formed the Black Studies Program, which offered an undergraduate minor.

Within a year, the administration and the Minority Task Force began to discuss forming an Institute that would focus more broadly on issues of diversity, and on April 8, 1972, the Board of Regents approved the creation of the Institute for Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The stated goals of the Institute were to give authentication to classes that taught a minority perspective in various disciplines and to recruit teachers, especially minority faculty, as role models and as individuals willing to present a cultural approach to the various university disciplines.

In the spring of 1973, Dr. Ralph Vigil, a professor of history from the University of Texas-El Paso, began to serve as the first director. Three areas of emphasis were established:  American Indian Studies, Black Studies, and Chicano Studies.  

The 1976-1978 Arts and Sciences Catalog listed minors in these three fields and in Ethnic Studies. 

Over the years, the Institute for Ethnic Studies and its constituent programs evolved. Faculty with expertise in relevant disciplines were hired.  A number of reorganizations occurred.  

For example, the Institute was initially established jointly under the Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Teachers College, but the majority of subsequent hiring occurred within Arts and Sciences, and no faculty members currently hold joint appointments outside the College of Arts and Sciences.

In the 1994-1995 academic year, two programs previously housed within International Studies--African Studies and Latin American Studies--moved into the Institute for Ethnic Studies and merged with the Black Studies and Chicano Studies programs, respectively.

This history was prepared by former Institute Director Marcela Raffaelli, based on research and analysis conducted by Barbara Chesier in 2000-2001 and additional assistance from Ahati Toure in 2002-2003. The history is based on archival research and interviews with individuals who were involved with the Institute for Ethnic Studies and its constituent programs over the years. A binder containing source materials for this history is available in the library of the Institute for Ethnic Studies. The history was updated in 2012 by the associate director of the Institute.