On Sunday afternoon I drove to the University of Rhode Island to participate in the NASPA Escaleras Institute. The institute aims to acknowledge the growing Latin@ population entering colleges and universities and respond to the need for Latin@ professionals in leadership roles within higher education. Like many traveling to the conference, I was excited to connect with my Latino/a Knowledge Community familia, expand my network, develop new skills, and recharge. However I did not anticipate the deep personal impact Escaleras would have on me…
The institute kicked off with a phenomenal panel of presidents. President Gomez (Hostos Community College) reminded us that we are not Latino professionals; we are professionals who happen to be Latino. Throughout the institute we met with our mentoring groups. Under the guidance of Dr. Frank Sanchez (@FrankDSanchez) my group served as a safe space to unpack thoughts with colleagues from across the nation. We also heard from Latinx vice presidents, association leaders, and amigos such as Kevin Kruger (@NASPAPres) and Amber Duncan (@amberagd). Each session was both an affirmation or our unique skills and talents and a call to action. I was challenged to think more critically about my personal values, my professional goals, and my dreams for a better America.
Throughout the institute we explored #MyWhy. For me it’s my parents who sacrificed everything to ensure that their kids had access to quality education and healthcare. It’s my family in Chile who remind me that I did not ask for opportunity, I was uniquely positioned for it. It’s my students, who still experience a broken system and inspire me to be a visionary leader, practitioner, and scholar who boldly and unapologetically speaks up. If I am being honest with myself, I don’t talk enough about My Whys because it can be a painfully isolating experience in Student Affairs. I am done just being mad at the system. I now aspire to be part of the solution. It has taken me years to get to this point. For many folks reading this, maybe you are still mad and that’s totally legitimate. We live in a time when social justice movements such as immigration reform and #BlackLivesMatter are seen as attacks on the fabric of our country rather than an opportunity to better our nation as a global leader. In time when racial injustice is morning news we need to be angry AND action oriented. Content never solves problems.
At the closing session we had the opportunity to hear each mentoring group’s takeaways and get our last bit of wisdom from the institute faculty. I felt tightness in my chest. As I looked around the room I saw joy but I also saw folks with tears in their eyes. Reality struck. This space- this warm, inviting, affirming, motivational space that we were blessed to experience was coming to an end. We would return to our campuses where many of us are the only one. We would return to spaces of daily micro (and macro) aggressions, reminders that we cannot express our personal dissatisfaction with the system if we want to evoke change for our students, and the irresponsible shortcomings of society that have shaped the lives of students of color.
The amazing Mary Jo Gonzales (@maryjogonzales) left us with a challenge: Make #MyWhys into #WhatsNext. We cannot and will not subscribe to the higher education institution as it currently exists. “The boulders are gone but the road still needs paving” as we heard throughout Escaleras. We bring a unique perspective to the work and we have a generation of Latinxs who need us to pave the way, pay it forward, and take risks. I left with more questions than answers. What I’ve come to realize is that the questions are in fact more important that the answers. Our inquiry is necessary. We are necessary.
So what’s next for Latinx Student Affairs professionals? More text than this blog post will allow! But I can say this; we are at the onset of movement that will require grit, perseverance and most importantly authenticity. Demographics are shifting and there are Latinx leaders who are being groomed to be the educational leaders of tomorrow. Some people will read this post and be uncomfortable. I’m okay with that. Your discomfort is our opportunity. We are ready now more than ever. Escaleras is a gift, not only to the participants, but also to the future generations of Latinxs who can and will have a better, more equitable life.
This post is part of our #CSAM15 series, in partnership with NASPA. Through these posts, we hope to highlight what it means to have a career in Student Affairs with a diverse group of contributors. With a focus on the students, defining Student Affairs, hot topics, and Striving Towards Betterment, there will be a lot to learn about this month! For more information, check out the intro post by John Weng at NASPA. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Dr. Monica Fochtman on MBTI & Conferences