Lecturer Roberto Lovato, coordinator of the Central American studies program, has been teaching a course called "The Salvadoran Experience" and has presided over some spirited discussions.
"I've had kids try to defend the use of death squads to enforce stability," he said.
Last semester, Lovato asked his class to pretend they were Central American coffee growers.
You have stolen the land from the peasants, he told them. You're making money hand over fist, and you have the national guard at your disposal, but the indigenous people, the landless, are angry. What do you do?
"Most students said they would give back the land, or at least some of it," he said. "But I also had students say: 'Business is business.' I love teaching these students--the Central American mind is an ideological minefield."
That's because the Central American immigrants who fill his classes come from all economic strata and political points of view. Often, students who would have been in different social classes in Central America--and would never have crossed paths--sit in the same classroom at CSUN and debate, Lovato said.
Novoa, who is a year away from her English degree, said she is getting more than an education from classes like "The Salvadoran Experience."
"It's helping me build my identity as a Salvadoran American," she said.