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Inside the Nation’s First Bilingual University

Seated in a sparkling new classroom at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Edinburg campus, with rolling chairs in the school colors — blue, green and burnt orange — students inched closer together to debate the value of innate ability versus hard work. Their conversations might have occurred in any first-year seminar, but for one key difference: They took place in both English and Spanish, often at the same time.

The bilingual course I visited is a pilot for an initiative known around campus as B3 — “bilingual, bicultural, biliterate” — that aims to transform the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) into the United States’ first comprehensively bilingual public university. As the initiative moves from rhetoric to reality, though, UTRGV finds itself grappling with questions of identity: What does it mean to be a bilingual and bicultural university?