Spanish Classroom Prepares for Competitive Global Environment

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Julio González-Ruiz’s enthusiasm for teaching is clearly evident in the classroom. The popular Spanish language and culture classes  of the associate professor of Spanish are a hub for stimulating dialogue, frequently punctuated with laughter.

Nia Payne, C’2012, is taking González-Ruiz’s General Survey of Spanish Literature course this spring semester. She describes him as a vibrant and intelligent professor. “Professor González-Ruiz is very patient and makes the class relevant to today’s world to us as Spelman women, and incorporates parts of our American and African-American culture,” said Payne. “He even quotes from Madea [a colorful character created by director and actor Tyler Perry].” In class, González-Ruiz scrutinizes the struggles of women in Spain and the Spanish Caribbean’s patriarchal societies from a historical perspective up through the 21st century. “Because their struggles still exist, professor González-Ruiz encourages us to take advantage of each and every opportunity available and to be the best in life,” said Payne.

As González-Ruiz explains it, the goal of his courses, which explore the construction of identity and the perception of race, is to not only prepare students for a competitive global environment, but also for a changing U. S. demographic where Latinos are now the highest populous minority and more than 50 million U.S. residents consider Spanish to be their first language.

“Our mission at Spelman College is to educate our students to be well-rounded, global citizens and future leaders. Spanish culture and language are very important in that equation,” said González-Ruiz, who was awarded Spelman’s Teaching Excellence Award in 2007. “In my classes we analyze critically what is happening in Spain with regard to politics, immigration, gender, race, etc., so that in the end, students will have a comprehensive picture of what is going on, not only nationally, but internationally. We want them to be free-thinking women and in order for that to happen, we need to empower them with specific tools so they can form their own opinions.”

As an academic, González-Ruiz also has a particular interest in how African immigrants are portrayed in literature and cinema, which can be traced to his upbringing in Spain. He grew up in Málaga on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The city is situated in the southernmost part of Spain where only eight miles separate the coasts of Spain and North Africa. Málaga has a substantial African immigrant population and is often used as a gateway to other European cities. As a young student in Málaga, González-Ruiz volunteered with a nonprofit agency that assisted African immigrants with their transition to a new country.

González-Ruiz continues to have a deep, abiding connection with the city. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Málaga. As founder and director of Spelman’s study abroad program to Málaga, González-Ruiz returns every other year with a group of Spelman students who study at the university for one month and immerse themselves in the culture of the city.

As a natural extension of his desire to make Spanish culture accessible to the Spelman community, González-Ruiz, who earned his doctorate in Spanish at Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree from the University of Ottawa, established the International Film Festival which brings an array of not only Spanish, but Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and French films to campus. This year’s festival is slated for March 19-29, 2012.

An impeccable dresser and one who enjoys cooking Spanish and Caribbean cuisine, González-Ruiz is well traveled, having also lived in France, Israel, Canada, and several states in the U.S. “I have been able to learn so much traveling and living in different countries,” he said. “As a result, my experiences are rich and I am better prepared to engage in meaningful conversations with my students to prepare them for the world.” — Audrey Arthur is a senior communications specialist for the Office of Communications.

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