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Rutgers Scholar who Sees Language as a Human Right

Written by John Chadwick | SAS Senior Writer

Liliana Sanchez, Winner of the Human Dignity Award, Discusses her Work

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“I think of language as a human right,” says Liliana Sánchez, a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. “We all have a right to preserve our language as an inviolable part of our heritage, knowledge, and of who we are.”

Working in communities and classroom from New Brunswick to Peru, Sánchez has sought to protect that right by creating programs that support heritage language speakers and empower their teachers.   

In Peru, for example, she helped develop assessment tools for schools in rural communities so teachers can more effectively serve students from a wide range of language backgrounds, including those who speak indigenous languages like Quechua.

At Rutgers, she has worked with colleagues to develop new programs for the growing number of heritage Spanish speakers, including a certificate program in academic Spanish, and an array of online classes such as “Spanish for the Health Professions,” and “Spanish for Business.”

Last spring, Sánchez received one of Rutgers University’s most cherished honors, the Clement A. Price Human Dignity Award for commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity, and access within Rutgers or in partnership with community organizations.

The award recognized her work advancing the study of Spanish-English and Quechua bilingualism, and for championing heritage language rights, and advocating for world languages as critical to social cohesion and human rights.

“I am a linguist by training, and my initial interest was in the description of the languages,” she says. “You continue with your interests but you realize that cannot be all. You’re a human being. You see a community with needs, and you respond. There are no protections for the loss of minority languages. There is no language rights bill.”