October 5, 2016
What makes the University of Oregon great are the diverse people in our campus community. This is especially important to remember as we see a rise in and normalization of white supremacist sentiments and rhetoric throughout the country. Latinas and Latinos (Latin@s), and Mexicans in particular, have been the target of much of this racism, with the presidential candidate of a major political party even calling them criminals and rapists at a press conference. While these controversies have highlighted the prevalence of racism in this country, they have also overshadowed the many contributions Latin@s are making to our country and society as a whole.
During Latino Heritage Month, we recognize and celebrate the contributions of those who came from and/or are descendants of people from Mexico, Spain, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. In addition to honoring historical contributions, it is also a time for us, as a university, to examine how we can better serve the Latin@ students and faculty who are currently making their imprint on the UO.
Originally observed as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, the observance is now a month-long celebration that spans September 15 through October 15 every year. While the federal government recognized the designation as “Hispanic Heritage Month”, the University of Oregon honors the culturally preferred and more appropriate term of “Latino Heritage Month.” While one month is not nearly long enough to cover all the contributions of Latin@s to the United States, the month of observation is good reminder that Latin@ influence is all around us. For example, during this year’s Latino Heritage Month, President Barack Obama will be honoring six Latin@s with the National Medal of Art and Humanities. As previously mentioned, Latin@s have and will continue to be a major factor in this year’s presidential election, both as powerful politicians on both sides of the aisle and as a crucial voting block. Latin@ influence in higher education is no different, as evidenced by President Obama’s recent declaration of September 12 through September 18 as National Hispanic-Serving Institutions Week.
Up until 2015, Latin@s were the fastest growing population in the United States for decades. Latin@s are even the majority ethnic population in California. In Oregon, Latin@s are by far the largest ethnic minority, accounting for 12.1 percent of the state’s population. This growing presence is very much evident on the UO campus. In the last several years, the number of both Latin@ students and faculty has grown significantly.
According to UO student demographics data, the number of Latin@ undergraduate students increased by 80.1 percentage from 2010-14. The same report also notes that the number of Latin@ graduate students has increased by 40 percent in that time period.
The increase in number of Latin@ faculty hasn’t been nearly as dramatic but still represents a significant, growing presence in our campus community. According to the UO’s tenure-related faculty demographics report, Latin@s accounted for 5.2 percent of the UO faculty during the 2015-16 school year. This was up from 4.1 percent during 2011-12. In the same time period, Latin@ faculty have increased from representing 23 percent of faculty of color to 39 percent. Additionally, the UO is making various efforts to institutionalize research and faculty recruitment in this area, especially with its support of the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies. While Latin@s have a presence of some kind throughout the different departments of the UO, it is clear that there is much work to be done in the areas of faculty recruiting and retention.
When it comes to building community and engaging others on campus with Latin@ history and culture, there are many people and groups doing this important work at the UO. These groups include the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies (CLLAS), MEChA, and the Latino Strategy Group. All three serve different, yet very much interconnected needs. CLLAS, for instance, facilitates collaborative research, scholarship, intellectual community, and community outreach. MECha, meanwhile, is a student group that provides space for Latin@ students to organize; host events like the Raza Unida Youth Conference; facilitate programming like after school tutoring, an offshoot women’s group, and a publication that explores gender, sexuality, bodies, and communities; and simply build community with one another. Lastly, the Latino Strategy Group is a collective of faculty, staff, students, and community members who provide mentoring and advocacy for and with Latin@ students, both on campus and in the Eugene community. On October 10, 2016, the Division of Equity and Inclusion in partnership with other campus and community partners will sponsor 2016 Fiesta Latina from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. in Room 190 of the UO School of Music and Dance. Please RSVP at inclusion.uoregon.edu.
As we observe Latino Heritage Month, it’s important that we recognize and honor the work these students, staff, faculty, and community members are doing to make the UO a better institution. It has come a long way, but the UO still has far to go. Use this month is an opportunity to not just celebrate the rich history of Latin@s, but to consider what role we’re playing in the history that’s being made right now.
Yvette M. Alex-Assensoh
Professor of Political Science and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion