Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Campus-Community Involvement
Diversity Digest Volume 10, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 10,
Number 2

Download our print issue (PDF)
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity and Learning: “A Defining Moment”
Institutional Diversity in a New Nation: Lessons Lived, Lessons Learned
The Pedagogy of Sentipensante: Recasting Institutional Core Agreements
Transforming Our Institutions for the Twenty-first Century: The Role of the Chief Diversity Officer
Creating Institutional Transformation Using the Equity Scorecard
Curricular Transformation
Service Learning, Multicultural Education, and the Core Curriculum:
A Model for Institutional Change
Drop It Like It’s Hot! Hip-Hop in the Twenty-First-Century Classroom
A Sustainable Campus-Wide Program for Diversity Curriculum Infusion
Campus-Community Involvement
El Camino Real: Where Culture and Academia Meet
Faculty Involvement
Advancing Diversity through a Framework of Intersectionality: Inclusion of LGBT Issues in Higher Education
Transitioning on Campus: Creating a Welcoming Climate for Transgender People
Complicating Diversity Categories: Jewish Identity in the Classroom
Student Experience
Dealing with Student Resistance: Sources and Strategies
Beyond Tourism: Race, Space, and National Identity in London
Graduate and Professional Degree Attainment for Students of Color
Affordability of Postsecondary Education for Students of Color
Diversity and Learning Resources

El Camino Real: Where Culture and Academia Meet

By Virginia Gonzalez, professor in the counseling and psychology departments at Northampton Community College and member of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education

Respeto. Personalismo. Familismo. These are important values in many cultures, but each culture interprets and expresses cultural values in a unique way. In the United States, the Latino interpretation of these values thrives on college campuses as never before. Yet even as Latino students increase in numbers at many colleges, the percentage of Latino faculty and administrators has lagged behind. As a result, there are not enough bilingual and bicultural faculty members to serve the Latino student population, and the dearth of Latino staff limits how effectively colleges are able to respond to this new student group.

In the early 1990s, Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, found itself faced with this problem—it had increasing Latino enrollment, but a small (although somewhat stable) Hispanic staff. Hispanic staff members were located in different academic departments, creating a silo effect on campus. This not only isolated individuals, but also limited efforts to advocate for campus change and meet the cultural needs of Hispanic students.

Yet one staff member was inspired by her experience at professional conferences, where members of diverse constituencies formed caucuses to inform, advocate, and shape the agenda of professional organizations. If professional organizations could have a Hispanic caucus, why couldn’t Northampton Community College? Within a few months, a caucus was formed on campus. From its very inception, the caucus was shaped by the cultural values of its members.

Cultural Values

Respeto among Latinos means that the individual earns respect—not on the basis of office, position, or even educational achievement, but on the basis of character. In keeping with this cultural value, individuals from all levels of the institutional hierarchy were invited to participate—faculty, administrators, support staff, and maintenance workers. This type of committee raised the eyebrows of many who had rarely seen such diversity at a meeting before, but everyone brought something to the table and participated as an equal. At one event, a bilingual orientation for students, the support staff typed correspondence and ran the registration table, the maintenance workers drove shuttle buses, and the administrators and faculty gave presentations and advised students. All assisted in the planning of the day. Although some support staff were prevented by their supervisors from attending meetings unless the agenda clearly outlined a direct link to the office they represented, the caucus fought to model the value of respeto among its members.

Personalismo was another value that permeated the group. The first twenty minutes of meeting time allowed members to share their personal lives by passing around family photographs. This type of personal sharing differs from that which occurs at the beginning of other meetings. One highly ranked administrator in attendance at one of the caucus’s meetings became frustrated with the amount of “chitchat” and announced that he would return when the meeting started. When members informed him that the meeting had started, he was taken aback. Members of the caucus tried to help him adjust to the cultural dissonance he was experiencing. They knew the feeling well! Caucus meetings provided them a refreshing opportunity to participate in a meeting guided by their culture instead of having to culturally adapt as they did in other meetings on campus.

Finally, familismo—the central role of family—was acknowledged by all caucus members. Events for students were planned to include as many family members as the students deemed necessary. Since extended family plays a central role in many Latino cultures, it did not surprise caucus members when the eighteen students who responded to the first bilingual/bicultural orientation invitation brought along enough family members to fill a large room. Administrators outside the caucus were thrilled by the attendance until they understood that only eighteen of the more than one hundred individuals in attendance were actually new students, and the rest were just “extras.”

A Model for Success

In the fifteen years since its inception, the caucus’s success has grown to the point where it has become embedded in strategic campus planning. Members have advocated for necessary changes on campus, initiated valuable programs, and earned the respect of the college community.

What might the success of one community college’s Hispanic caucus mean for other campuses? First, even though a campus community may have few faculty members and employees of Hispanic heritage, a community of identity provides support for staff members and benefits the college community as a whole in a way that isolated individuals cannot. Second, having a group that allows an individual to function within his or her own cultural framework provides a sense of validation that may be missing in other arenas (where other cultural values prevail). Finally, the synergy that culturally relevant programs, services, and events create benefits both students and the campus as a whole. Although this may require some adjustments to normal campus processes, aren’t the corresponding values—inclusion, respect, and caring—what higher education should be about?

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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