As professionals in higher education, we have the distinct privilege of seeing students come and go at varying stages of their development. For Latin@ students, development is tied to to parental involvement, a sense of belonging and community, peer influences and secondary education. While there isn’t much we can do to influence student lives prior to their arrival on campus, the ways in which higher education professionals interact with these students and their families once they are on campus need to become a priority in our student development strategies.
Part of what sets Latin@ college students apart from their non-Hispanic peers is their desire to involve their families in college decision-making and activities. At orientation, most programs separate students from their parents or guardians. In many instances, doing so creates an immediate disconnect for relatives who do not speak English. As demographics in higher education shift in the United States, we have to embrace the realities that accompany a growing Hispanic population. At my institution, we have addressed this challenge by providing professional translation services during orientation to Spanish speaking families members who want it.
Latin@s who work in higher education are an important asset to these transitioning families. A large majority of Latin@ students are first generation and concepts of college life can be foreign to them and their families. In addition to the comfort of having someone on campus who can navigate a conversation in their native language, Spanish-speaking families benefit from seeing a Hispanic professional on campus. It is essential for them to see what is possible for their children. Role modeling is powerful – for both students and their families.
It is not news that peer influences go a long way at all levels of student development. Since the vast majority of Latin@s come from under-achieving secondary schools, it is not surprising that patterns of early pregnancy, criminal activity, and dropout rates continue to influence student trajectories. Students are more likely to be successful if their peers are successful, and one of the best ways to connect with successful peers is to become involved in organizations or activities on campus. Extra-curricular opportunities help to establish positive influences, increasing Hispanic students’ sense of belonging. However, Hispanic families are often suspicious of nonacademic activities, sometimes viewing them as a waste of time. Higher ed professionals are uniquely positioned to provide these families with valuable insight into why activities outside the classroom are valuable. Latin@ professionals have a unique opportunity to become long term resources for students and their families.
Sense of Belonging and Community
Higher ed professionals, Hispanic or otherwise, have a role in helping our students find positive influences. Perhaps most importantly, Latin@s in higher ed can themselves become sources for social capital and bridges to community belonging. Making ourselves available to Hispanic students and their families can make all the difference in helping to get them on track to a successful college career. We do our first generation students a disservice if they go into survival mode instead of thrive mode. Thriving is an important ingredient in retention and college completion.
As professionals in a college setting, how do we make a difference?
- First, make a difference. Take the extra step to position yourself as a resource for students who could benefit from your influence. If you are a Latin@ who does not work in an area of the college that has direct contact with students and their families, make yourself known to the areas that do like Student Affairs, Academic Advising, First Year Programs, Commencement Offices and the President’s Office to name a few.
- Secondly, don’t be afraid to stand out. Extending yourself to other offices sets you apart from the crowd. Offering up your bilingual skills increases your visibility as an asset to the entire institution and more importantly, as an asset to the students.
- Finally, help close the gap. If you notice a lag in services available to underserved populations on your college’s campus, propose a task force or committee to develop recommendations and strategies that will help your school engage and retain Hispanic students.
Collaboration between Latin@ professionals (staff and faculty), students, families, and their campuses is a win-win-win. Students thrive because the entire institution is invested in their success; the college retains more students; and higher ed pros get to do what they do best – make a difference for students and the college community alike. What could be better than that?
This post was originally posted at Latinas In Higher Education.