Prof. Luis Fraga of Political Science Reappointed as ILS Director

Author: Oliver Ortega

Endowed Professor Luis Fraga

Institute for Latino Studies Director and Political Science Prof. Luis Fraga will serve another three-year term at the helm of the ILS, the university announced earlier this month.

Sarah Mustillo, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, made the news public in an email to faculty members and staff earlier this month. Fraga, the Rev. Donald P. McNeil, C.S.C., Professor of Transformative Leadership in the Department of Political Science, rejoined the university in 2014.

“I am grateful for Luis for his leadership of the Institute over the last six years, and as co-director for two years before his directorship,” Mustillo said. “During his tenure as director, he established the Latino Studies Scholar Program (LSSP), increased the number of faculty fellows, provided oversight for ILS’s move to its permanent home in Bond Hall, supported faculty research, and continued the Institute’s work throughout the pandemic.”

In addition, she underscored his contributions as a teacher, student adviser, and public researcher. The appointment is for three years, effective July 2023.

“Luis has continued and enhanced this tradition” of leadership at ILS, Mustillo said. “Please join me in thanking Luis for his continued service on behalf of the Institute, the College, and the University.”

In an interview, Prof. Fraga looked back on ILS’s growth during his tenure and shared his aspirations for the future.

“I’m very excited that Dean Mustillo decided to appoint me for another three years. We have built upon the work of previous directors and co-directors, establishing the Institute for Latino Studies as a core part of the University of Notre Dame,” he said.

ILS, he added, “has a major role in bringing all of Notre Dame’s resources to bear towards understanding what the continued and growing presence of Latinos means for the university, country and church.” 

A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, Fraga earned an A.B. in Government at Harvard University. He then obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Rice University. Eary in his career, Fraga spent a few years as a faculty professor at Notre Dame, before roughly two decades of professorial appointments at Stanford University and then Washington University in Seattle.  In 2014, he found his way back to Notre Dame.

As a scholar, his primary interests are in American politics, specializing in Latino politics, voting rights, immigration, and education. He has published six books and over forty articles in scholarly journals and edited volumes. His most recent co-edited book is Latinos and the 2016 Election: Latino Resistance and the Election of Donald Trump (Michigan State University Press 2020).

During Fraga’s tenure at ILS, the number of majors and minors in Latino Studies has grown by more than fifty percent, to 80 currently. There are 36 faculty fellows affiliated with the Institute for Latino Studies. The Cross-Cultural Leadership Program, or CCLP, as it’s known, has more than doubled in capacity and grown to include international sites in Puerto Rico and Mexico. And the Latino Studies curriculum has grown to about 20 courses per semester, serving 500 to 700 students.

Fraga is particularly proud of ILS’s role in implementing a bilingual, Spanish-English immersion program at Holy Cross School in South Bend. This partnership, as well as other initiatives, highlights the importance of Catholicism to the institute’s mission, as well as Fraga’s strong belief in the importance of faith at Notre Dame.

“There’s a way that spiritual commitments can help students figure out what goals they want to pursue,” Fraga said. "I can't think of a place that does it better than Notre Dame."  

Fraga began leading ILS as co-director along with Timothy Matovina, a professor of Theology and faculty fellow with the ILS. That arrangement lasted from 2015 to 2017, after which Fraga took over as sole leader. 

Gilberto Cárdenas, then a Professor of Sociology, served as director from the institute's founding up until 2012. Cárdenas was a protégé of Julian Samora, an eminent sociologist who in the 1970s and 1980s pioneered one of the first Mexican-American Studies graduate programs in the country at Notre Dame. After Cárdenas, Josè Limón, Professor of English, took over from 2012 to 2015. 

Integral to Fraga’s success has been the staff at ILS. He works very closely with Associate Director Paloma Garcia-Lopez, who came to ILS from the MakerEd Initiative and the Posse Foundation. Much of ILS's institutional memory rests with Maribel Rodriguez, an Administrative Coordinator who has worked at ILS since its inception in 1999 and is responsible for much of the day-to-day operations. Karen Richman, ILS Academic Director and Professor of Anthropology, began serving in her role in 2009. Francisco Aragon joined ILS in 2003 and established its literary arm, Letras Latinas, in 2004.

Currently, Fraga and Garcia-Lopez are in the process of selecting next year’s group of Latino Studies merit scholars, which will be composed of seven recipients. There are 26 scholars active on campus today. Choosing the merit scholars is one of his favorite aspects of the job, he says.

‘When I’m reading these essays and getting to know these wonderful students, the future of our community becomes clearer,” he said. “It’s inspiring and encouraging to hear the work these applicants have done in their own communities and their plans going forward."

For the future, Fraga hopes to establish a certificate program for graduate students, as the current degrees are only for undergraduates. He wants ILS to expand its support for its faculty fellows, as well as for young scholars, including with the creation of two post-doc positions. Fundraising, particularly towards the LSSP program, is a key priority. He hopes to continue fruitful relationships with Dean Mustillo and Provost John McGreevy, both of whom have facilitated ILS's growth during Fraga's tenure.

To be where he's at right now, with ILS and Notre Dame, is a "dream come true," Fraga said.

"When I wanted to become a scholar," Fraga said. "I wanted to be a voice for those I did not see represented anywhere in my own studies growing up. Notre Dame and ILS gives me the opportunity to achieve this and more, so that we can build a better future for our country, church, and for Notre Dame.”

Originally published by Oliver Ortega at on February 22, 2023.