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After a summer of meetings with the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and various University officials and departments, the Latinx Alliance for Community Action, Support and Advocacy and MESA representatives say progress has been made on short-term requests and conversations about larger, institutional demands are moving in the right direction. Last February, La Casa sent a list of demands to the University of Michigan administration addressing a lack of representation and support for the Latinx community on campus.
La Casa, an organization of students and faculty at the University, works to provide support and facilitate a positive environment for all Latinx students on campus looking for more support.
La Casa’s demands, which were emailed directly to University President Mark Schlissel, Provost Martin Philbert and others, called specifically for an increase in Latinx staff and faculty hires, Latinx senior administration hires, additional funding for the Latina/o Studies program and La Casa, the installment of Latinx-identified spaces on campus and more.
Though little concrete progress has been made on the larger demands including structural diversification of hiring processes to include more Latinx hirees and more, LSA junior Lesley Rivas, La Casa lead director, expressed her optimism for the conversations with MESA and the University moving forward.
“We are moving in a positive direction,” Rivas said. “We understand that there’s a lot of demands that can’t be solved in a certain timeframe. They require time, so I think we’ve been understanding on that end because (the administration) have been addressing the ones that are more immediate or easier to tackle.”
MESA director Nadia Bazzy confirmed in an email the organization has met with La Casa and wrote the University is focused on concrete solutions to the demands proposed by La Casa.
“Student Life leadership has met with La Casa on an ongoing basis since the demands,” Bazzy wrote. “The goal has been to listen, dialogue and deliver actionable items to strengthen partnerships and community.”
One of the initial demands called for full financial support for Assisting Latin@s to Maximize Achievement, a program designed to provide incoming Latinx students with necessary resources and support once they arrive at the University. La Casa specified it wanted ALMA to start prior to the official University move-in date to avoid conflicts with other orientation programs.
According to LSA senior Yezeñia Sandoval, external director of La Casa, ALMA celebrated 18 years last week with additional support from MESA, which has led to increased support for incoming Latinx students.
“(ALMA) really demonstrated the University’s commitment and leadership to helping La Casa grow and expand and helping recruit and retain Latinx incoming students, so I feel like they’ve really been pivotal in helping create action plans so that across campus, different offices can really cater their services to the diverse community that they serve,” Sandoval said.
With regard to the action plans, Sandoval and Rivas mentioned a pending joint press release from La Casa and the University about the status of the demands. Rivas said a few of the initiatives the University has been currently working on include the reinstallation of the previously removed art from the César Chávez Lounge in the Mosher-Jordan Residence Hall and an increased effort in diversified job applicant pools.
According to Sandoval and Rivas, the lack of Latinx representation in faculty and staff positions is still one of La Casa’s central demands. While 2017’s Hispanic/Latino student population sat near 6 percent, data from the Office of Budget and Planning for 2017 shows the percentage of Hispanic/Latino regular instructional faculty — which includes tenure-track faculty, non-tenure-track faculty and lecturers — was 3.97 percent.
Sandoval said the low number of Latinx faculty members is a result of the applicant pools. While La Casa claimed the pools have seen an increase in diversity, Sandoval argues it isn’t enough.
“Outreach is a big (focus area) too because it’s not enough to just make sure applicant pools are diverse enough but it’s also important to make sure what outlets are we reaching out to (and) how else are we expanding and including the community?” Sandoval said.
Sandoval suggested the Professional Latino/as at UM Alliance , a network of staff and faculty at the University whose missions include furthering Latinx culture and increasing Latinx presence on campus, should receive further utilization. Sandoval said PLUMA should be notified of job openings so additional qualified Latinx candidates can apply.
“There’s a lot of potential, there’s a lot of Latinx individuals out there that have these qualifications but are you seeking them out?” Sandoval said. “Holding others accountable and seeing where you’re posting these jobs (and) how are you reaching out to Latinx faculty and staff … is a big part of (the conversation).”
Moving into September, which is also Latinx Heritage Month, Bazzy said the University is allocating more financial support for La Casa’s Heritage Month activities, as well as funding for programs and better employment opportunities to ease the burden of tuition.
“MESA, La Casa, and other campus partners have been working throughout the summer to provide programming for the campus community,” Bazzy wrote. “MESA has secured increased funding for all heritage month programs, mentorship programs, and grants for students and student organizations for ongoing work on campus, as well as, increased the number of student jobs in MESA and the rate of pay to better support the campus community.”
As conversations on the demands continue, Rivas said the main goal will continue to help Latinx students at the University feel as though they are supported and accepted by their peers and academic institution.
“I am very optimistic about this coming year and all the progress that will be made, and I am always excited to see La Casa grow into the largest Latinx organization that supports all of our community members and makes them feel like they have a home at Michigan,” Rivas said.