UT to facilitate changes for bilingual institution

University of Texas Rio Grande’s U.S. Army recruited new students on campus for the spring semester on January 19 in Edinburg, Texas. Photo credit: Courtesy Photo

By Rylee Seavers | Staff Writer

The B3 Institute at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is working to transform the school into a bilingual, biliterate and bicultural institution.

After the legislation was passed to create University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in 2013, the UT board of regents decided that one of the guiding principles of the university would be to explore biculturalism, bilingualism and biliteracy, according to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley website. The website also states the B3 Institute was created to implement these principles.

“The B3 Institute has [a] purpose to facilitate the transformation of the university into [a] bicultural, bilingual, biliterate institution,” said Dr. Francisco Guajardo executive director of the B3 Institute.

Guajardo said that the institute has three main goals to transform the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. The first is to help faculty develop coursework to be taught bilingually or in Spanish that is relevant and appropriate. The second is to encourage research and scholarships that promote bilingualism and biculturalism. The third is to engage the community in the institute’s mission. Guajardo said part of engaging the community is working with the K-12 education system, municipalities and the private sector to encourage bilingual education.

“With K-12, for example, this is about having K-12 understand clearly that we need a feeder system. In other words, if you send students to us your students would be so much more able to take full advantage of the university if they came to us [as] bilingual, bicultural, biliterate students,” Guajardo said.

Students do not have to be bilingual, bicultural or biliterate to attend University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Guajardo said, and they are not required to take any Spanish or bilingual courses.

“When they first see [bilingual courses], I think they are really shocked,” said Dr. Dagoberto Ramirez, professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. “In the pre-K – 12 system, Spanish is not encouraged and celebrated.”

Ramirez teaches a bilingual course called learning framework. The course is intended for first-year or transfer students from community colleges and teaches them to transition from high school to college.

“This is a very organic opportunity for us to use the languages that we love – both English and Spanish,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez says that allowing students to speak Spanish in the classroom gives them a sense of relief. He said the students were not comfortable using Spanish in the classroom at first, but over time he has seen his students open up and expects them to be speaking more Spanish than English by the end of the semester.

Ramirez said there is a saying in Spanish, “A person that speaks two languages is worth two people.” He said that being bilingual opens up many opportunities in any career field, while someone that is mono-linguistic may not have as many opportunities.

“They feel that their language is honored, as opposed to it being disrespected in many people’s views,” Ramirez said. “The students are excited.”