ILS Director Luis Fraga honored with MALDEF lifetime achievement award

Author: Institute for Latino Studies

Luis Fraga (second from right), with (from left) ILS Advisory Council member Phil Fuentes; Fraga's wife, Charlene Aguilar; and ILS Advisory Council member Joe Power.

Luis Ricardo Fraga, director of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, has received a lifetime achievement award for excellence in community service from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).


Founded in 1968, the Los Angeles-based MALDEF is the leading Latino legal civil rights organization in the United States. Fraga received the honor from the organization in recognition of his continued work serving students as well as the community and his efforts to bring these two groups together.


“Luis’ legacy lies in all of the students he has mentored, both undergraduates and graduates. It lies in the research he has done that has made an impact in a practical way. And it lies, finally, in his leadership administrative capacity,” said Tom Saenz, MALDEF’s president and general counsel. “He has established a strong record of a Latino administrator thriving and making new contributions, innovating and ensuring that universities are coming closer and closer to communities that they serve.”


Fraga has contributed research to lawsuits filed by MALDEF and other civil rights organizations, such as the NAACP and ACLU, on numerous cases, including work on the 1965 Voting Rights Act with Chandler Davidson, research professor and Tsanoff Chair of Public Affairs Emeritus at Rice University.


Through that legal work, Fraga learned how academic research could be used to make influential decisions within the court system.


“What we do as scholars isn’t just research for research’s sake if we can apply our work to affecting people’s lives to help democracy become stronger,” Fraga said.


His research has had an invaluable impact, enabling important court cases to be decided in favor of those being marginalized. Fraga has provided expert testimony in voting rights cases in California and Washington.


Working with the New Language Program through Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education, Fraga helped establish the first-ever Spanish-English, two-way immersion program in a Catholic school in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend at Holy Cross School in South Bend.  


Fraga also collaborated with the Notre Dame Office of the Provost to bring the Warrior-Scholar Project to campus. This program provides a one-week academic boot camp enrichment opportunity to military veterans and those planning to leave military service. This program further strengthens the University’s commitment to the armed forces and to share its resources with those who have given to this country, just as Fraga’s father did through his Navy service during World War II.


Img 4502Luis Fraga with founding ILS director Gil Cardenas and wife Dolores Garcia

Previous winners of the MALDEF excellence in community service award include Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation; Brent A. Wilkes, former CEO of United Latin American Citizens; Cynthia Telles, director of the UCLA Spanish-Speaking Psychosocial Clinic; and Paul Schrade, coordinator of the RFK-12 Community Task Force.


A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, Fraga has spent his career bringing a distinct and enriching voice to the intellectual capacities of universities across the country, enabling them to better serve all students — including those whom universities are not accustomed to serving in their research and teaching.


“I have held my work to a higher standard because it is not enough to develop a theory that is parsimonious, replicable and salient — it must be meaningful and viable,” Fraga said. “Can it actually work in a way that might contribute to improving peoples’ lives, work to give more people a chance to improving their own lives?”


Fraga also works to inspire transformative leaders who he encourages to use their values and vision to serve those who are not traditionally served and find inspiration for a bigger, more inclusive future. He has served on the Notre Dame Task Force on DACAmented and Undocumented Students to support cohorts of undergraduate students otherwise overlooked.  


ILS’ Transformative Latino Leadership Lecture series was initiated by Fraga with the goal of engaging prominent figures in politics, entertainment, the arts, business, activism, the church and other fields. These influential leaders present both their personal experiences and a vision of effective leadership in their spheres of influence with the goal of inspiring and informing young leaders about the possibilities, pitfalls and principles they should know as leaders in our contemporary world.


Helping students “understand the public consequences of their private decisions” has been a goal of Fraga’s. He also allows this lesson to guide his own work, using his knowledge, resources and support to give back. 


“Someone who has had as many privileges as I’ve had carries a great deal of responsibility,” he said.


A graduate of Harvard University, Fraga received his master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science from Rice University. His primary research interests are in American politics, where he specializes in the politics of race and ethnicity, Latino politics, immigration policy, education politics, voting rights policy and urban politics. Fraga’s two recent books highlight this research, the co-authored "Latino Lives in America: Making It Home" and "United States Government: Principles in Practice," a high school textbook.


Fraga was one of six principal investigators on the Latino National Survey, the first-ever state-stratified survey of Latinos in the U.S. This survey explores questions regarding political attitudes, beliefs, behavior and policy preferences.  


Img 4500Luis Fraga with ILS Director of Undergraduate Studies, Karen Richman, and the Cross Cultural Leadership Program Chicago interns.


In 2011Fraga was named one of the top “100 Influentials” in the U.S. by Hispanic Business magazine and served as a member of Barack Obama’s President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.


Fraga is currently the acting chair of the Department of Political Science, the Notre Dame Professor of Transformative Latino Leadership, the Joseph and Elizabeth Robbie Professor of Political Science, and a fellow in the Institute for Educational Initiatives. He has previously served on the faculty at the University of Washington, Stanford University and the University of Oklahoma. 


All of Fraga’s work intimately aligns with the mission of the Institute for Latino Studies and the University of Notre Dame by advancing the understanding of the fastest-growing and youngest population in the United States and the U.S. Catholic Church and preparing transformative leaders in all disciplines of study. 


“Notre Dame allows me to live my Catholic faith, pursue my research on American political development and teach the next generation of leaders in the country, the world and the Church as no other university can,” he said. “I can live my Catholic values in all aspects of my life — my family, community and work — without any artificial boundaries. I cherish this gift that Notre Dame has given me and my family.”

Originally published by Institute for Latino Studies at on June 21.