Now well into his third decade of service at the UW, Lauro Flores, professor and chair in the Department of American Ethnic Studies, is a consummate teacher and a passionate advocate of diversity and inclusion. He is also the recipient of a 2007 Distinguished Teaching Award, and his nomination file glows with words of praise from colleagues and students alike.
“He has taught more than 25 different courses at the UW, ranging from language instruction to graduate seminars,” wrote Judith Howard, divisional dean of Social Sciences, in her letter nominating Flores for the award. “His sense of curricular service is astonishing. After 25 years at the University he continues to teach the ‘bread and butter’ courses … He is quiet, unassuming, and as one student put it, you would never know he is one of the most distinguished scholars in the field.”
Keane Sweet, a former student who studied abroad with Flores and was glad to have the professor as his senior thesis advisor, wrote, “One gets the sense that he has read every angle, every critique, heard every possible contention. Even so, in my experience, Lauro is unflinchingly open to student input.”
Flores’ career has featured varied experiences and campus roles. He came to the UW in 1980, joining the Department of Romance Languages and Literature, and the next year became director of the Center for Chicano Studies. He held that position until 1985, when the Department of American Ethnic Studies was created. In 1989, he was invited to spend a year as visiting professor at Stanford University. He followed this in 1990 with a similar year as the guest of UCLA.
Returning from that two-year leave, Flores then spent two years, 1992- 94, as special assistant to the provost. He next moved to the Department of American Ethnic Studies in 2002. “This department was always asking me to move here, and then the time came,” he said.
He became chair there in 2005. “I took the job because it’s challenging,” he said, and he admits that those challenges continue. “It’s been hard to retain faculty,” he said, and as a result, the department’s African-American Studies concentration has suffered the most. Still, Flores said he sincerely wants to help the department grow and thrive.
Throughout his long career, Flores’ scholarship also has been extraordinary.
His publications include The Floating Borderlands: Twenty-Five Years of U.S. Hispanic Literature (UW Press, 1999), which won an American Book Award, and Alfredo Arreguin: Patterns of Dreams and Nature, a bilingual volume (UW Press, 2002), which was also selected for the Kiriyama PacificRim Book Prize Notable Books Reading List. He has served as editor of the journal The Americas Review: A Review of Hispanic Literature and Art of the U.S.A., and Metamorfosis: Northwest Chicano Magazine of Art and Literature.
Flores, who is 56, came of age during the civil rights movement and continues to hold true to the ideals of those times. He is concerned about the UW’s ability to recruit and retain minority faculty and students, and worries that real changes should long ago have taken place. “The notion that in 35 or 40 years the playing field has been leveled is far from the truth,” he said with some sadness.
He said he continues to reflect on words he heard from a speaker at a Ford Foundation meeting of fellows (of whom he was one) back in the 1980s, a time of shrinking education budgets: “If we did not transform institutions when times were better, how do you do it now?” Though its intentions are good, he said, the UW still has a long way to go toward achieving true diversity.
Looking back over his varied and vital career, Flores said, “I hope my role has been to facilitate the transformation of the system to make it more inclusive of groups that historically have been excluded or marginalized.”
He continues to seek ways to improve his department and the education it can offer to students.
“A key component of my legacy, I hope, will be the creation of a graduate program in American Ethnic Studies,” Flores said.