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ImageScholar, Mentor, Role Model
Lauro Flores
Professor and Chair, Department of American Ethnic Studies
It’s no small feat to guide a strong ethnic studies program in a city not always known for its ethnic diversity. But Lauro Flores, in his second year as chair of the Department of American Ethnic Studies, is poised to do just that over the next few years. “We have to take it to the next level. I think we are well-positioned to become a leader in the region as well as nationally in this area,” he says.

Flores has been a professor of Latin American and Chicano literature at the UW since 1981, with stints at Stanford and UCLA. He teaches mostly upper-division classes using themes and issues in contemporary Latin American and Chicano literature. “I’m very historically minded,” says Flores. “I try to frame the classes beginning with the roots of what we call contemporary literature.”

Flores must strike a balance in his classes of 20–30 students, where both graduates and undergraduates often coexist. “You have to find a level in which you are not boring the grad students and not going over the heads of the undergrads,” he says, so he keeps lessons lively. “I lecture for the first two sessions; after that I try to make it an interactive experience.” He eventually divides students into groups that lead discussions with Flores as a participant.
He also takes care to understand the individual needs of his students, saying, “More than half of the students I have work either part- or full-time.”

The students themselves give him high praise for his efforts, both as a teacher and mentor. “He has been tremendously effective in motivating and encouraging underrepresented and educationally/economically disadvantaged students, like myself, to consider graduate education, particularly doctoral study, as a realistic option,” says Gabriel E. Gallardo, ’89, ’00, who is now the assistant vice president for the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity. He adds that many of the students Flores has advised over the years have gone on to prestigious internships, doctoral programs and more.

“One of his most salient talents lies in his communication skills in the classroom, a communication that cut across gender, class, race and sexuality,” says Gabriella Gutierrez y Muhs, a former student who is now an assistant professor at Seattle University.

Outside of the classroom, Flores is notable for his work to promote Latino and Chicano art in the Pacific Northwest; his grants include awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Paul G. Allen Foundation for the Arts and the Washington State Arts Commission, among many others.

In his remaining three years as chair of the American ethnic studies department, he hopes to create a graduate studies program as well as to strengthen the African American studies department, which has suffered from faculty losses.

According to his former students, Flores is certainly the teacher most equipped to accomplish these things. Says Gutierrez y Muhs, “Dr. Flores could talk to a child, a beggar or a king.”—Niki Stojnic