Latinx and Hispanic students and faculty are underrepresented at Salisbury University in comparison to the nation, according to the SU Analysis, Reporting and Assessment report for fall 2019.
4.8% of the university’s undergraduate enrollment and 2.3% of tenured and tenure-track faculty were Latinx or Hispanic, yet a vast 18.30% of people in the United States identified as Latinx or Hispanic in the latest U.S. Census in 2016.
SU’s proportion is in-line with those of Maryland and Salisbury, where Latinx and Hispanic populations are smaller compared with other states and cities across the country, with the city of Salisbury sitting at 5.9% in the census.
SU Chief of Staff Eli Modlin said the university is working to remedy their problem with underrepresentation.
“[The Latinx and Hispanic percentage gap] is not only a problem for SU but a problem more generally in higher education,” Modlin said. “But it’s one that I think we have to have a stronger focus toward.”
SU professor of Spanish Carolina Bown said there is an opportunity to fix this problem, however, as the number of Hispanic and Latinx students going to college is trending upward, increasing by 13% from 1993-2014, according to studies done by the Pew Research Center.
Bown believes a big part of attracting the demographic is by also attracting their parents, since there is a strong family-centered culture within Hispanic and Latinx communities.
“Latinx parents want to make sure their children have support on campus,” Bown said. “If they know there is someone the students can … talk to, I think it helps.”
Modlin said one of the ways the university is working to lower the gap is by sending Latinx and Hispanic students from the school’s Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS) on admissions trips, including sophomore and first-generation college student Ginger Danser-Mena.
As vice president of OLAS, Danser-Mena works to create a “family feel” within her organization to help other Latinx and Hispanic students feel more at home by holding weekly meetings, participating in admissions events and being a part of the activities fair. She is also currently working to create a “family night” for OLAS where family members can come to a meeting.
“We try to provide students with a safe space to talk about certain things and the ability to make friends of the same race or ethnicity,” Danser-Mena said. “We are trying to make it more family-oriented.”
As of right now, OLAS has no permanent place on campus to call home. The only place Latinx and Hispanic students of the group could use to gather is the Multicultural Center, which is a resource for all minority students.
However, Corrine Pubill is advocating to change that.
Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Intercultural Studies and the faculty advisor of OLAS, Pubill personally knows the majority of Latinx and Hispanic students on SU’s campus and wants to help create a more permanent space for them.
“We know that in future years we are going to have a drop in students going to university, but we are going to have an increase in Latinx students going to university,” Pubill said. “So, we need to find ways of attracting them to SU, and for now, we [haven’t done] enough.”
Anthony Rojas, a chemistry professor at the university believes another way to attract more Latinx and Hispanic students and help them feel more at home is to create a mentoring program. As one of the few SU Latinx professors teaching outside the Spanish Department, Rojas also understands the importance of being able to connect with people of similar cultural backgrounds.
“Minority students are thrust into this place where they have no experience, no background and nobody looks like them, so they can’t go talk to them and find this cohort of people who identify with their struggle and at least relate,” Rojas said. “Being around people who understand you is so meaningful to develop a sense of community.”
First-generation college student Luisa Samayoa personally knows the struggle of figuring out college for herself and said it would have been tremendously helpful to have a Latinx or Hispanic advisor when she first started at SU.
“I definitely feel like I … could come to [a Hispanic or Latinx advisor] for comfort or to speak about personal problems, and that they would understand and not judge,” Samayoa said. “I don’t think us Latinos have a safe place to go on campus.”
Yet, in order to have minority mentors, SU must first hire more minority faculty.
Modlin said the university is in the early stages of making more room within the budget to be able to post faculty job opportunities on sites that appeal to diverse populations, though he also conveyed that faculty hiring is a much longer process than attracting students and depends heavily on retirements.
By VICTORIA FEARS
Featured image: Involved@SU OLAS page.