Investing in Thriving Community Today as We Look Towards the Future

Part of cultivating a thriving campus is constantly challenging ourselves to better facilitate and nourish community. How are we affirming and encouraging all in our community to be their full selves, not just on an individual level, but in our systems? Latinx Heritage Month 2023 is as opportune a time as any to explore this question.

Latinx Heritage Month, which is officially designated as National Hispanic Heritage Month by the US government, is a month-long celebration of the contributions of Americans of Mexican, Spanish, Caribbean and Central American descent. It was originally sanctioned by President Lyndon Johnson as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968. President Ronald Reagan expanded the celebration to a month-long observation in 1988. Now, we officially recognize Latinx Heritage Month from September 15 through October 15 to commemorate the anniversary of independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, as well as Mexico and Chile, which celebrate their independence on September 16 and 18, respectively.

Latinx people make up the largest community of color in Oregon. According to the US Census Bureau, Latinx residents comprise 14.4 percent of Oregon’s population of 4,240,137 people.

Here at the University of Oregon, 15.3 percent of undergraduate students identify as Latinx or Hispanic, which means that Latinx students are slightly more represented on campus than in the state’s population demographics. Yet, as we strive to be a premier university where equity, excellence and belonging are commonplace, there is much more work to do to ensure that Latinx students are thriving at the UO and in Oregon higher education as a whole.

As part of this important institutional work, we celebrate the Latinx Faculty Hiring Initiative, which will bring faculty whose work focuses on Latinx issues to enhance UO’s academic excellence. Additionally, we applaud the work of Laura Pulido, Professor of Geography and Indigenous, Race and Ethnic Studies, who led a task force that included the following recommendations: ensuring that our systems and community infrastructure are intentionally equitable in their design, expanding outreach to the Latinx community, developing clear support systems and not just hiring, but investing in Latinx staff and faculty. Visit Unidos Patos as a space for information, support and connection. 

It is also imperative to recognize that the UO’s efforts follow in the footsteps of Latinx educators who have been creating and cultivating these spaces long before. This spring, as reported by OPB, PODER, Oregon’s Latino Leadership Network, hosted a celebration honoring Colegio Cesar Chavez, the nation’s first four year, independent Chicano university, to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of its founding in Oregon. Its founders, who included Jose Romero and Celedonio “Sonny” Montes, made a lasting impact on Oregon higher education during the college’s ten years of operation. Some of their innovations included the “college without walls” program, which allowed students to get credit for work outside the classroom.

It’s in this spirit that we also recognize the amazing work happening here on campus by Latinx staff, faculty and students who are pushing education in Oregon, and throughout the world, forward. For example, Senate President Gerard Sandoval, is leading a university-wide effort to enhance faculty retention, make service more equitable and to enhance shared governance. Ramon Alvarado, Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy, recently received the Tykeson Teaching Award for his contributions to data science education, specifically in the development of the PHIL 223 Data and Ethics course and curriculum. Alai Reyes-Santos, Professor of Practice in the School of Law and Associate Director of the Just Futures Institute, was recently named as a member of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s planning committee for a national workshop on enhancing the responses to climate change. Assistant Professor Ernesto Javier Martinez was recently named Department Head of Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies. Also earlier this year, the Public Relations Society of America named Dr. Juan-Carlos Molleda, Edwin L. Artzt Dean of the School of Journalism and Communication, as Senior Counsel to its 2023 Board of Directors. These are just a few examples of excellence spanning diverse areas of study and influence.

We also recognize the transformative departmental work of Latinx Studies, being led by Audrey Lucero, Associate Professor in the College of Education; the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies (CLLAS), led by Chris Chavez, Carolyn Silva Chambers Distinguished Professor of Advertising in the School of Journalism and Communication; and the Spanish Heritage Language program, led by Sergio Loza, Assistant Professor in Spanish Linguistics; as well as Rosa Chavez’s leadership in her role as Director of the Center on Multicultural Academic Excellence (CMAE).

We also lift up groups like MEChA, Muxeres, the Latinx Strategies Group, Dreamers Working Group, Patos Alumni Network and Patos Para Prosperidad, the Latinx Male Alliance, Unidos@UO of SOJC, SACNAS at UO, the Latinx Scholars Academic Residential Community, UO Gammas, Sigma Lambda Beta, the Latinx Law Students Association, and others doing necessary and transformative work to create a better atmosphere and environment for Latinx students and, by extension, the university as a whole.

While expressing our pride in the aforementioned individuals, organizations and departments, we also acknowledge there is much more work to do. Latinx Heritage Month 2023 will feature plenty of opportunities to celebrate the contributions, both historical and contemporary, of Oregon, Eugene and the UO’s Latinx community, as well as programming that explores and organizes us around creating a campus that facilitates success and belonging for Latinx faculty, staff and students. We hope you will join us and invite your friends, family and community!