The Michigan Hispanic Collaborative and the University of Michigan Latino/a Alumni hosted “The State of Latinx Education” panel Wednesday, which drew approximately 60 people for a discussion about the quality of the Hispanic education environment from elementary to post-secondary levels.

The panel opened with a series of guided questions from moderator Anita Martinez, the executive director of the Michigan Hispanic Collaborative. Panelists later answered questions that ranged from the state of elementary education all the way to expectations and issues in the corporate arena. The Latinx community at the the University of Michigan is the fastest growing underrepresented minority grup on campus; students identifying as Hispanic comprised a record high 5.64 percent of the entire student body. 

“We’ve got panelists from the high school spectrum and experts, people that touch on community college and four-year institution access,” Martinez said. “(We) have a representative from the corporate sector just to talk about where there are gaps, if any, where there are opportunities to enhance and to improve high school and college graduation rates.”

The five panelists, comprising professors, educators and a corporate executive, discussed the importance of cultural understanding and bilingualism in the education system. The discussion also included strategies for students to find success in school and the workforce.

According to Social Work student Stuart Inahuazo, the discussion offered support and encouragement for first-generation students while commenting on the poor state of the education system for Latinx students. 

“As someone who is a first-generation college student, or college graduate now, I really enjoyed how they spoke of what the pressing issues are for the Latinx community,” Inahuazo said. “I really do think to give the students access and to be able to give them an opportunity to grow and to obtain these resources is important, but it does show we don’t have the resources currently to get that for the Latinx community.”

Last school year, the Latinx Alliance for Community Action and Support published demands calling on the University to increase the share of Latinx executives, staff and faculty across campus. A recurring message in the discussion was increasing staff members in the education system who were culturally competent, or more aware of other cultures, to relate with students. Inahuazo said though there were many conversations during the panel, cultural competency was one of the most important lessons. La Casa also requested a “LatinX Campus Climate Study” to assess the opinions of Latino students, faculty and staff on campus and to further support additional programs — a campus climate survey last year found Hispanic students are 132 percent more likely than white students to experience discrimination. 

“One of the biggest takeaways was, in the whole sense, cultural competency. To be more open-minded on how (the staff) perceive their students, especially people of color and Latinx students, just because many could be first gen or it could be their first time far away from home,” Inahuazo said. “To be able to understand their perspective, to be able to give them a chance to speak up in classrooms or to give them resources necessary, I think it’s important for teachers and faculty to understand to be much more open-minded of other cultures.”

LSA sophomore Thania Flores said it is encouraging to hear successes of other women like her.

“It’s important to have Latinx representation and see other Latinx alumni (and to) see what they’re doing,” Flores said. “That will motivate me to see what my future has as a Latinx woman.”

Martinez hopes students will use the panel and discussion as an opportunity to work together to progress the state of Latinx education.

“I hope that they take away that we are at a critical point in history where we must lock arms with one another in order to identify low-hanging fruit and opportunities to create greater clarity for parents and great clarity for students on how to access post-secondary opportunities.”

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