Remaking Higher Education by and for our Latinidad
In 2023, many Latino students and families are questioning whether a college degree is worth the cost. What if the purpose of higher education went beyond job training and building up your social network? What if the purpose of higher education focused on the healing and health of our nation’s most pressing social and cultural problems? The answer lies in our Latinidad’s ability to prosper which depends on our ability to navigate higher education to build our community wealth, health, and political capital.
For the sake of this discussion, the term Latinidad is intentionally used here with the inclusion of Black and indigenous experiences, to mean a group of people with a shared experience and geopolitical identity that includes the impacts of slavery, voluntary and forced migration, colonialism, imperialism, resistance, race, color, legal status, class, nations, language, forming a diaspora from Latin and South America, and Caribbean lands.
For an abundant future, a radical Latinidad higher education would mean our colleges and universities must be transformed from the individual purpose of human development to the integrated approach of communal and social well-being. Taking all that has been gained learning about brain health, neuroscience, epigenetics, psychoneuroimmunology, salutogenesis and health promotion, now is the time to re-imagine the role and purpose of our schools and the potential of the self to include our cultural strengths of Latinidad. Even noted education commissioner Earnest L. Boyer has stated there needs to be a “scholarship of integration” across scholarly fields to “respond to the educational and health and urban crises of our day.” Today’s crises are the mental health and climate crises that are concurrently taking place across our local and global communities.
What might it look like for our colleges and universities to focus on the healing of the mind, body, soul, and Latinidad in an integrative holistic approach to learning? It would mean building a whole new world of learning based on an asset-based approach on well-being, the likes of which has never been seen before.
The ways of learning would shift from the transactional function of earning grade points to wide-ranging holistic practices that support the goal of Eudaimonia or the “good life”. Eudaimonia is also described as well-being or being happy due to having a purpose in life. That sense of purpose would provide students the opportunity to make contributions and to be active producers in the world marketplace of ideas.
The current college-going generation sees very little value in attending college given there are all types of knowledge readily available with the tap of a finger on a smart phone. Most colleges and universities only have to offer a piece of paper and a lifetime of college debt. For the next generation of Minecraft players and world builders, only by offering a whole new world of opportunity will they be convinced to join the rest of us in the real world.
The rise of artificial intelligence and chatbots like ChatGPT has proven without a doubt, the last skills young people need to practice in college is regurgitating prior knowledge. If anything, our younger generation needs to learn to be as human as possible. Our younger generation come with technical and creative skills like we have never imagined before, with a lifetime of access to the internet. Our schools should be providing wings to students so they can truly fly. Our schools should be sites that expand our sense of mind, body, and community and self that our students can apply their talents to find solutions to the problems of the world around us.
Using a framework of ten principles for Latino leadership based on work by Juana Bordas, imagine the future of higher education for our community, by our community, and for the future of our Latinidad. What might this look like 50 years from now? Using the ten principles, here are some ideas for how the Latinidad of the future could experience higher education.
For principle one there is the focus on the personal with Personalismo: the character of the person. Our Latino culture belief holds that each person in inherently of value and should be treated with respect. Therefore the expectation of college can be set for all students in our public education system. Imagine students received a college registration number (CRN) from the time they begin their education until they enroll in college? This CRN could follow them across state lines and across the nation from pre-K to high school graduation. That way, the student would be able to access records and necessary information that could be stored with the National Student Clearinghouse. Having a CRN, would provide a foundation to build trust and respect for the student and connection to college to reach for more and aspire for all that is possible, no matter their family educational background, language, or other social economic barriers that often take children out of the college pipeline in grades as early as third grade.
The second principle is Conciencia: Knowing oneself and personal awareness. Learning about the connection we all have to our personal values, beliefs, and thought processes can happen through intentional in-depth reflection. Before entering the college setting, every student is assessed with the College Conciencia Exploration (CCE) assessment tool on their sense of conciencia, or self-examination, and integration of their values to learn more about their sense of self. Are they optimistic, pessimistic, open minded, rigid, intuitive, judgmental, free spirited, or traditional? By learning more about the personal awareness of students before they enter to college environment, students could be provided with personalized recommendations for courses, programs, and support to help them. This deeper sense of self would help students to develop their motivation and learn more about their intentions and internal dynamics for forward direction and growth.
The beginning of the college experience should kick-off with a college orientation. The third principle is Destino: Personal and collective purpose. Once students have a better understanding of their conciencia, then the student orientation discovers the way destino runs through all parts of life, including chance, fate and the unplanned events that come up for everyone on the journey through college. As there will be challenges, opportunities, good and bad experiences, learning and understanding personal destino during the first-year orientation gives students a taste of what is still to come and how they can empower themselves to take on the challenges ahead. The first year orientation course will prepare students for success by establishing personal and community goals for each entering class.
Going to college takes strength, vision, and leadership. All college students will learn basic leadership skills. The fourth principle is La Cultura: Culturally based leadership. Our Latino community is strengthened by the shared stories of oppression, resistance, colonialism, imperialism, migration, traditions, and language practices. Using the cultural touchstones of proverbs or dichos such as mi casa es su casa, the future leaders in our communities gain perspective on their values and heritage by learning from traditional sayings. This link to the past is a connection that will build fortitude for the leaders of tomorrow to make difficult decisions. These dichos pass down the knowledge from the elders and form a basis of leadership with cultural significance and meaning. For example, the Latino values from the dicho mi casa es su casa highlights the importance of service, humility, and caring for others which form the basis for a welcoming community for all people from every walk of life. Every student will complete a leadership practicum that includes 100 hours of paid community service or service learning. For students who have worked in family businesses, they would earn up to 50 hours of community service through credit for prior learning (CPL). As well, the faculty, staff, and administration of the university must be grounded in learning culturally-based leadership as well as part of their professional development to be of service to the students of our Latinidad.
The fifth principle is De Colores: Latino inclusiveness and diversity that brings together all the colors of our Latino communities together. The Latino identity is no monolith. Like all the colors of the rainbow, Latino people have multiple native languages, hair types, skin tones, eye shapes, facial features, body types, and ways of being that are as multifaceted as can be imagined. With global migration, climate crises, and changing demographics, the need for inclusiveness and belonging is the basis to generate welcoming communities. Course instruction is based on presenting diverse perspectives that are integrated into the core curriculum with diverse course materials, research, and experiential education that showcase diverse and inclusive perspectives.
The importance of the collective health and healing is described in the sixth principle, Juntos: Collective community stewardship. Based on the notion that the strength from our Latinidad is in the size and sheer number of the many of us together. Leaning into this collective strength, leadership is “dispersed, shared, and reciprocal” in the power across the community. As learned from the leadership style of our migrant resistance, our leaders walk among the people as equals and working side by side with others. The shared history of struggle and oppression has been challenged by the power of the people, (not money). Bringing our collective struggle to the classroom shows the way to success for achieving the greatest heights in academia. Part of this practice includes the requirement of anti-racist course materials and curriculum practices as well as including students and the community to participate in curriculum planning, evaluation, and program development that is based on democratic participatory models. The birth of many academic fields such as La Raza Studies, Black History, Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, and Ethnic Studies programs and such are example of programs borne from resistance. The future is where interdisciplinary fields highlight Latino research, contributions, and culturally relevant programming to address the inequities, short comings, and overlooked roles of Latinos in higher education. Instead traditional fields such as STEM, cutting-edge research, exploration, innovation, emerging technologies, and business incubation programs are re-imagined from the perspective of how these content areas directly affect the Latino community.
Our Latinidad would not have its full flavor without including the spices from all over the world. The seventh principle is Adelante! Global vision and immigrant spirit. With over 20 countries and territories that make up the Latino community, and connections throughout the world from Philippines to Spain and lands across the Northern and Southern hemisphere Latinos are leaders around the world. Colleges and universities built relationships across the globe establishing reciprocity agreements to enable all students to be provided with access to complete an academic term, internship, work experience, or service learning project, in their home country to deepen connections to their heritage and language. Every student is provided with a language immersion program to prepare them for a term abroad in their ancestral mother tongue, and for the students who are undocumented immigrants, university legal services facilitate the passport process and citizenship process to establish dual citizenship for all college students. Once students graduate, they have the choice to remain in the US or work internationally with rights to full citizenship status. Since all colleges in the US and abroad are free of charge, students have no college debt upon graduation.
There is an old African proverb that if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. The eighth principle is Si Se Puede: Coalition and activist leadership. Within higher education there are various systems of colleges, campuses, and types of universities. The Latinidad is stronger with the help of their friends. Many universities are Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI’s) and that means there is an opportunity to build a coalition with other Minority Serving Institutions (MSU’s). In the future, HSI and Historically Black Universities and Universities (HBCU), and other MSU’s have reciprocity agreements to support student admissions, enrollment, and registration. All colleges have agreed to adopt a Common Application for Students of Color (CASC). When a student registers their CRN and they are a student of color, they are automatically registered to receive information and assistance about admissions for all participating institutions. If a student decides to attend a community college first, their application information is automatically rolled over so they do not need to apply to transfer, they receive guaranteed admission once completing community college transfer requirements to all HBCU, HSI’s, and MSU’s. As well, to address the faculty and administrative development pipeline, once students have completed their graduate studies and meet minimum qualifications, graduates of color are given priority consideration and affirmative action for open positions at the participating university systems in hiring. The federal application for financial aid is also automatically completed for all college students using the CRN and all data is pulled from the income tax records of the federal government.
Russian anarchist Emma Goldman is famously attributed with the sentiment, “It’s not my revolution if I can’t dance to it”. The ninth principle is Gozar la Vida: Leadership that celebrates life. With the history and experience of the challenges facing many families and communities of migrants with colonialism, slavery, loss, and discrimination, the sweetness of life is important to enjoy. College students deserve to experience life to the fullest and to share in celebration when they reach life’s milestones. As colleges all have degree audits to capture academic milestones, there are also career development audits for all college students that highlight experiential education and career development rest stops. As students accept internships, work experiences, study abroad, and resume building experiences are all celebrated and recognized at the university with transcript notation and recognition at the campus with a systematic reward system that includes free meals, points leading to credit at the campus bookstore, and opportunities to participate in individualized programs such as dinner with your favorite professor or an experience like a field trip to an industry headquarters’ for the day. Included at the university commencement ceremonies are the opportunity for family participation and community cross-cultural recognitions. Each campus provides diverse student organization funding to learn and share traditional songs, dances, and cultural meals of student populations. There is priority funding for cultural student organizations and a campus community kitchen and instruction is provided to celebrate important cultural celebrations throughout the year. These celebrations allow for the student leaders to inspire pride, honor, validation, motivation, personalismo, and distinction from their shared cultural heritage.
Spirituality is our connection to all life in the cosmos, to all those who have ever lived and to those whose lives are yet to come. It is bigger than the sum of the parts. The final principle is Fe y Esperanza: Faith and Hope. College students are the leaders of tomorrow. They have a long hard road to tow. They must have faith and hope in themselves and their abilities. College students must learn the role of spirituality in leadership so they can inspire those they will eventually lead. Since many migrants and Latinos come from small business communities, each college student will learn the process to open a small business. They will learn about the permit process, business plan development, becoming eligible for public contracts and grants, and learn to build a sustainability and succession plan. The next 50 years will mean that students will be solving global problems that have no current solutions so every student will be equipped to develop a business plan that produces a revenue stream that is viable for new college graduates. Each student will be provided with zero-interest student business loans should they chose to open a new business upon graduation. The federal first-time business loan program (FTBL) will make it possible for students to establish themselves in the community of their choice and contribute back to the community while encouraging economic development to address current needs of climate change and social injustice. Priorities for the FTBL will be given for social enterprise that address historical discrimination and social injustice for communities of color. With the recognition of the importance of social responsibility, students would have a deeper connection to their academic journey, beyond economic and social interests. With the spiritual connection, more students would be more likely to complete their college degree.
With the goal of education shifted from self-serving to social betterment, that would help to increase the social value and the individual contributions that our students could make in their own future through experiential education, such as apprenticeships, internships, work experience, co-operative education and international research projects.
In my latest book, Nurturing Our Self: During college, everyday life, and the job search (2022) I discuss the value of transforming our schools into places of nourishing for the mind, body, soul, and the community. For the health of our children and the planet, our schools must integrate the world’s best evidenced-based knowledge to develop innovative solutions for the well-being of all. Schools could be our salvation, with no time to lose. Let’s bring on the good life!
Bordas, Juana (2023) Ten Principles of Latino Leadership, https://www.juanabordas.com