The Importance of Latinx Representation in Cultivating and Sustaining Student Belonging
New Professionals and Graduate Students
March 21, 2023
I like to consider myself an open book. I love to share exciting and difficult aspects of my life with people I connect with and I think this has always been the case. It wasn’t until I began working at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) a year ago where this perspective and quality I held began to shift. I remember sitting in team meetings and feeling as if there was no one around I could speak or connect with and while everyone seemed nice and friendly, I didn’t feel a connection like I had in previous spaces. It wasn’t until I was able to connect with a Latinx colleague on my team that I began to feel a true sense of community in my small pocket of work.
In the Latinx community, you’ll often hear an invitation from your elders, friends, and family members to engage in something “con confianza”, to engage with trust. Whether that’s “comer con confianza” , an invitation to put more food on your plate at the party or “hablemos con confianza”, an invitation to speak freely and candidly. As a collectivist community, there’s a deep embodiment of trust, vulnerability, and mutual care that comes from sharing space with other Latinxs.
While the concept of confianza is not unique to Latinx community, it is a resounding affirmation of the importance of representation and connection among Latinxs. For Latinx students navigating higher education, finding Latinx representation and mentorship can pose a complex challenge as 51% of full-time professors are White males with only 2% of full-time faculty being Hispanic/Latinx (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021.) I struggled a lot as a first generation student attending a PWI as an undergrad, often feeling as if there weren’t professors who understood or saw me in the ways that felt important and formative at the time. It certainly did not help that I was attending a conservative faith-based institution during the 2016 elections. I remember walking around campus the night after the election with a sea of MAGA hats around campus. I remember walking to class on the car lane and a large Ford F150 driving past me blasting country music and flying a large American flag and a Trump 2016 flag on the back as they shouted at people on the sidewalk. I remember the heaviness myself and my friends felt and I remember wanting more. More trust, more safety, more confianza for/by/with a Latinx faculty mentor. Someone to guide and support me and my friends through a time where their voice drew in the deepest safety.
I think those experiences really shaped my desire to pursue a career in higher education and cultivate resistance, safety, and care onto campuses. In my first full-time job post-grad I was lucky to be led, mentored, and supervised by an incredible Latina Director. Her passion to build community with not just her peers but to build bridges between other Latinx students and faculty and staff of color was indescribable. She paved the way for me to lead, facilitate, and drive programming forward in a way that nurtured me into a leader as a new professional.
In this ever-changing landscape of higher education, my hope is that Latinx students can continue to find spaces of meaning and belonging outside of their academic value but rather can draw deep connections alongside a community of members who can nurture them into leadership.
Author: Kim Correa (she/her/ella) works as the International Associate Curriculum Developer for The Trevor Project. Kim is the Co-Chair of Latinx @ Trevor, the organization's first-ever affinity group for Latinx staff. Kim is a current PhD student pursuing her PhD in Education for Social Justice at the University of San Diego where her research passions center Queer-Latinx student belonging and interpersonal violence within social justice movements. Kim earned her Master of Arts in Education in College Counseling and Student Development from Point Loma Nazarene University.