Latina Leaders Talk Education, Public Policy at Third Annual Summit

By Weissman, Sara | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, August 22, 2019 | Go to article overview

Latina Leaders Talk Education, Public Policy at Third Annual Summit


Weissman, Sara, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


California Rep. Nanette Barragán remembers her immigrant parents telling her, "Doctor or lawyer - that's the only way you're going to get out of poverty."

She set out for UCLA and then graduated from the USC Gould School of Law.

"We never really talked about how do we pay for it, how I would get there," she said. "But there are a lot of struggles when you come from a household like mine."

Barragán shared the memory with a packed hotel ballroom audience at the third annual Latina Leaders Summit last month. The event, hosted by The Hill, brought women together to discuss how policymakers can level the playing field for Latinas in politics, education and the workforce.

This year's headliners included Barragán, California Rep. Grace F. Napolitano and Rep. Jennifer González-Colón of Puerto Rico in conversation with National Public Radio host Lulu Garcia-Navarro.

Last year, a record number of Latinx candidates were elected to Congress - 38 in total - adding a new dimension to the annual gathering.

"Our summit this morning cannot be more timely," said Niharika Acharya, executive director of events at The Hill. "In a moment when divisive rhetoric is dominating the political discourse in Washington, we look forward to convening a thoughtful forum on leadership and efforts to have our institutions reflect the diversity of the American people."

Panel discussions ranged from Latina entrepreneurship to Trump administration immigration policies to the influx of Hispanic women in Congress - several speakers touched on higher education issues. Barragán, for example, described the weight of her debt coming out of law school and expressed her concern about the student loan debt crisis on behalf of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, where she serves as second-vice chair.

On a different panel, Virginia delegate Hala Ayala mentioned her experience as the first college graduate in her family.

"I encourage all of you to run for office," she told young women in the audience. "We deserve a seat at the table, and for too long, women have been on the menu."

A panel titled "Breaking the STEM Barrier" addressed higher education head-on, focusing on Latina underrepresentation in STEM fields.

Dr. Cecelia Aragon - who directs the HumanCentered Data Science Lab at the University of Washington, Seattle - was the first Latina full professor in the college of engineering at the school. …

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