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Students and faculty discuss Latinos in higher education

| Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Saint Mary’s “Week of Poder,” hosted by La Fuerza and the Student Diversity Board, kicked off this Monday with a discussion about different experiences speakers had while pursuing higher education as a Latino or mentoring Latinos in higher education.

Leonard Sanchez, professional specialist in social work; Marc Belanger, chair and associate professor of political science; and Ty West, associate professor of modern languages, spoke at the event. Other speakers included Saint Mary’s international student and scholar advisor Adriana Petty, Saint Mary’s 2015 alumna Christin Kloski and the associate director of the TRiO Upward Bound program through Notre Dame, Rafael Marin.

During the talk, several speakers brought up issues they experienced while pursuing higher education.

Sanchez said in college he had to talk with the head advisor in order to be put in the classes he needed to graduate and had a conversation with the president of his alma mater about diversity on campus.

“You have to believe that we’re going to graduate and that it’s an attainable event,” Sanchez said in regards to the conversation he had with the president of his alma mater. “You shouldn’t look at us and say, ‘You are so lucky or blessed to be here.’ I know that I am blessed, but you have to give us the same chance to succeed.”

Marin said he was born in Texas and then moved back to Mexico with his mother when he was young. He moved to America for high school and had to learn the language quickly.

“I had to work two or three times as hard as any other students in college,” he said. “Other students who did not have the language barrier have other challenges. We all face challenges that are different from one student to the next, minority or not.”

Marin said he was often teased for his accent in high school and college.

“Stereotypes create false images of not just Latinos, but many different ethnic groups,” Marin said. “It is your job to change the stereotypes.”

It is important to focus on higher education., Kloski said.

“One of the stereotypes is that [Latinas] are under-educated,” she said. “Well, look, we’re all here and proving them wrong. Focus on your education and be proud when you succeed.”

Sanchez explained how he grew up in Portland and was the first generation in his family to attain a college degree. He said his decision to attend college was inspired by the Holy Cross Order.

“The Holy Cross Order had a program where graduates from college would volunteer for a year in my community,” he said. “These young people were the first to mentor me and took me under their wing from when I was in third grade to college. Without them, I wouldn’t have known all it took to apply to colleges.”

Petty said she went to high school in South Bend and was the first generation to attend college. Mentors were essential during her time on campus, she said.

“I got involved in La Fuerza and the older girls really mentored me,” she said.“They helped me navigate around campus life and issues in the classroom.”

Belanger discussed how important it is for Saint Mary’s students to build relationships with faculty.

“Professors will write you a letter for grad school and and they won’t just say you did a good job in class — they will write about whole person,” he said. “Professors here do care about you. Be confident that if you’re here, you belong here.”

West explained how he uses his time spent in Mexico as a tool to connect with Saint Mary’s students.

“I try to bring the real world into the classroom and use concrete examples from the Latin American civilization to foster respect, knowledge and break down stereotypes and barriers we all confront,” West said.

Sanchez said working at Saint Mary’s has been beneficial towards his goal of giving back to the community and giving others the opportunity to succeed at higher education.

“When I came to Saint Mary’s, it was another opportunity to give back,” he said. “I am in a better place for what I want to accomplish.”

Kloski said she was proud of the leader she was able to become while at Saint Mary’s.

“Be strong and bold,” she said. “Set goals for yourself and become successful.”

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