From October 31st to November 2nd of this year, the Julian Samora Research Institute (JSRI) will mark its 30th anniversary with a national conference on the theme “Latina/os and the Renewal of U.S. Democracy.” The conference will feature panels and workshops on numerous topics related to the conference theme by scholars from across the U.S. studying Latina/o issues, as well as by representatives of Latino-serving organizations. There will also be plenary addresses, film screenings, and two musical events.
JSRI was established in 1989 by the Michigan State University Board of Trustees to address the absence of systematic information and knowledge on Latina/o communities in the Midwest. At the time of its founding, JSRI had five focus areas: employment development, education, political empowerment, health and family welfare, and cultural awareness and enrichment. Today, JSRI remains committed to the original mandate of its founders through research, community outreach initiatives, and student mentorship. In service to its mission of generating, disseminating, and applying knowledge for the improvement of Latino communities in the Midwest and across the nation, JSRI’s current focus areas are health disparities, business ownership and entrepreneurship, and gaps between service delivery systems and Latino communities.
JSRI is named for Dr. Julian Samora, a pioneering Mexican American sociologist whose research focused on Latino issues in the Midwest. Dr. Samora taught at Michigan State University from 1957 to 1959, after which he joined the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, where he remained until his retirement in 1985. Dr. Samora, along with Ernesto Galarza and Herman Gallegos, founded the Southwest Council of La Raza, the precursor to the National Council of La Raza, a leading national Latino advocacy organization, recently renamed UnidosUS. Thirty years on, JSRI remains committed to Dr. Samora’s ideal of conducting research that contributes to the well-being of Latina/os, their families, and communities.
JSRI has prospered under the leadership of Richard Navarro (Founding Director, 1989-1993), the late Joseph Spielberg Benitez (1993-1995), Refugio I. Rochin (1995-1998), the late Jorge Chapa (1998-1999), Rene Hinojosa (1999-2002), the late Isráel Cuéllar (2002-2004), Dionicio Valdes (2004-2005), Francisco Villarruel (2006-2007), and currently Rubén O. Martinez (2007-present). Over the years, JSRI has worked closely with community, state, and non-profit organizations on issues critical to Latina/o communities. It has also developed research ties with academic institutions in the Midwest and beyond to promote interstate research initiatives.
Between 2009 and 2011, JSRI pioneered a series of statewide summits on Latino issues that identified and prioritized the challenges facing Latinos in Michigan. Following those initial summits, JSRI held topic-specific summits on Latina/o education (2011), health (2014), business and entrepreneurship (2015), and media (2016), and a regional summit in Grand Rapids (2016). The topic of civic engagement morphed into a series of three statewide summits (2017, 2018, and 2019) under the banner, “Promoting Latino and African American Collaboration through Dialogue and Engagement.” The series was designed to culminate in the formation of an advocacy organization that promotes intergroup collaboration and harnesses the collective power of communities of color in Michigan to create a more just, equitable, and inclusive society.
In these times of political turmoil, domestic terrorism, and what appears to be societal decay, JSRI continues to conduct research on critical issues to inform policy solutions that will lead to the betterment of all communities.