Diversity it’s more than dancing salsa | OP-ED
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In my tenure as deputy editor of the Journalism Lab on Higher Education at AL DIA, I have had the honor of meeting several university leaders with different perspectives on how to foster diversity and inclusion of Latinos in college. However, many of them focus on continuing to spin the wheel of stereotypes rather than offering compelling alternatives to help broaden the representation of the Latino community in higher education.
The first failure lies in thinking that student clubs and associations are the infallible solution to foster diversity and inclusion among Latinos. Sometimes, beyond uniting efforts, what it does is segment. Worse yet, there are university leaders who fall back on the creation of these clubs or diversity centers as the only answer to the lack of Latino inclusion at the institution and cast aside other initiatives needed to enrich and deepen the Latino community in the academy. Not to mention, those who think that having a salsa club is the key to a more diverse institution. It may well be, but not all Latinos find in salsa the solution to feel represented. Another great stereotype.
The least I want to do is to take credit away from these organizations, most of which are born out of students’ own initiatives in the face of lack of representation, and which offer a sense of belonging that you don’t get in other collectives. The problem lies with university leaders who rely on this to take for granted the inclusion of Latinos in higher education.
The second failure is the lack of Latino staff at institutions. If memory and Google serve me well, the state of Pennsylvania has only one Latino college president: Pedro Rivera, of Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology (located in Lancaster). However, this is contradictory when compared to the number of Latinos living in Pennsylvania. According to Excelencia in Education, Pennsylvania has the 12th largest Latino population in the United States, where 61 % of students graduating from four-year institutions are Hispanic.
The third shortcoming is the lack of academic offerings that match students’ interests, and the absence of bilingual and bicultural programs.
According to research conducted with high school students by The Education Trust and Equal Opportunity Schools, two out of five Black and Latino students expressed interest in pursuing a college career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). However, less than 3 % enroll in STEM courses because they are denied access to AP STEM opportunities.
The study concluded that this systemic cause is due to a lack of leadership initiatives to create a sense of belonging among students of color. In addition, it recommended that school pillars promote adequate information on how to access AP STEM opportunities and offer culturally relevant and identity-affirming curricula.
Following the line of academic offerings, universities must also ensure that the curriculum is aligned with the students’ backgrounds. San Diego State University (SDSU) is a great example of this. Due to the high enrollment of Hispanic students at SDSU, professor Nate Rodriguez created a course to study reggaeton superstar Bad Bunny.
“When I create classes, I really look at what the students need. And here in San Diego, we live on the border; Tijuana is just a couple of feet away from us, so the students are very bicultural”, Rodriguez said in an interview with AL DÍA last September.
In conclusion, universities should take the time to evaluate and rethink better alternatives about what it really means to be Latino in the academy. Let’s start with the basics: more Hispanic staff, more courses that appeal to the Latino community, more financial aid, and more spaces for conversation between students and the institution to critically analyze Latino-ness and find long-term solutions.