Academic journal article College and University

Unseen Differences: Cultural Diversity among Hispanic and Latino Students

Academic journal article College and University

Unseen Differences: Cultural Diversity among Hispanic and Latino Students

Article excerpt

To promote inclusion and creating a welcoming environment for an increasingly diverse population of undergraduate students, many institutions invest heavily in the development of programs and resources that celebrate diversity and encourage meaningful interactions. Noble though they may be, these efforts often fail to account for the truly infinite diversity of human experience. Students may be unduly homogenized based on a single dimension of their identity, and administrators may be largely unaware of subcultural differences that lead to intergroup enmity.

This study attempts to expose the root causes of these misunderstandings among the members of the Hispanic/Latino community at a small private liberal arts university, as well as what students believe the institution can do to close the divide. Eight domestic and international Hispanic/Latino students were interviewed regarding the divisions between their subgroups, the underlying reasons, and their suggestions to bridge the gap. Researchers distill and explore the primary themes of intragroup racism and marginalization, a perceived lack of institutional resources, and the social influence of socioeconomic status. The results of the study inform recommendations for the creation and improvement of programs that will be effective in attracting and retaining Hispanic/Latino students from various backgrounds, as well as initiatives that may improve intra- and intergroup harmony.

As of July 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Hispanics and Latinos (H&Ls) accounted for 17 percent of the U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau 2013a). (Hispanic refers to any person living in or from a Spanish-speaking country and therefore includes Spain but not Brazil. Latino refers to any person living in or from Latin America and therefore includes Brazil but not Spain. For the purposes of this article, Hispanics and Latinos are abbreviated as "H&Ls," with the recognition that they are two distinct terms [Hayes-Bautista and Chapa 1987].) However, this group is underrepresented in higher education, with only 6.4 percent of college-aged H&Ls enrolled in higher education. Perhaps in part because of this underrepresentation and small numbers of H&Ls and also to simplify reporting and planning, colleges and universities historically have categorized the subgroups comprising the H&L community as a single group. Whether because they speak the same language or because of their ethnicity, it is a common and convenient belief that H&Ls "are all the same." However, a large variety of cultural permutations distinguish H&L subgroups, and universities must recognize and acknowledge these differences if they wish to meet the needs of every student.

Students who identify as H&L express their culture in a variety of ways. They also have a range of motivations for pursuing higher education. In a training manual for child welfare workers in Georgia's Division of Family and Children Services, Rice-Rodriguez and Boyle (2006) note that U.S. Latinos have differing social, economic, and political reasons for residing in the United States. Moreover, this diverse population comes from different countries and cultures; failing to recognize the disparate ways in which individuals self-identify leads to inaccurate generalizations, erroneous assumptions, and reliance on cultural stereotypes (Rice-Rodriguez and Boyle 2006).

At the medium-sized, private, primarily white institution that is the focus of this study, 5.4 percent of the student body is Hispanic and/or Latino. Despite the institution's stated goal of recruiting and admitting a diverse student body, H&Ls and other minority groups remain similarly underrepresented: Asian American students constitute 2.2 percent of the undergraduate population, African American students 5.6 percent, and American Indian students 0.3 percent. To retain and attract a greater percentage of H&L students while also improving their general satisfaction, institutions should consider acknowledging and supporting the subcultural variety among them. …

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