'U' helps Latino students acclimate

BY OMAYAH ATASSI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 30, 2004

Simple move-in tasks like trying to find a ride to go shopping can be difficult for new students unfamiliar with the English language. Many Latino students also deal with loneliness from not being able to communicate effectively with other students, said Alejandro Asali, president of the Mexican Student Organization.

The projected increase of Latino students at the University in the upcoming years has created an urgency to make a friendlier campus climate for Latino students. In response, the University has been implementing several programs to help Latino students feel more comfortable when applying to the University, starting with the admissions process.

Parents’ unfamiliarity with the U.S. higher education system is an obstacle for the first generation of college-goers.

Lorraine Gutierrez, faculty director for the Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning, said the University should have more Spanish resources for parents.

“The students with parents who did not attend college in America would need different kinds of advising, support and services,” she said. “It’s really important that the University pays very close attention to this. They would probably need people at meetings who speak Spanish so the students and parents feel more comfortable in an environment they might not initially feel comfortable in.”

Yet efforts to attract more Latino students also bring up questions regarding bilingualism.While some believe that Spanish-language additions and expansions might help Latino students, others say that this could prove detrimental to the Latino population by not helping them adjust and learn the English language quickly.

Asali said the Spanish gateway website, which the University set up earlier this semester, offers no help for the incoming Latino students who need English skills to succeed in college.

“I didn’t really see a point in changing the website,” he said. “Even though it might help them at first, the students would still have to learn English anyway. This will only delay the process------ --— anyone who comes to the University with mediocre English skills can’t succeed either way.”

But LSA senior Harlyn Pacheco, co-chair for the Latino student group La Voz Latina, said the Spanish resources will have a positive impact on campus.

“I think that the growth of services and resources are really important for this organization and others on this campus,” Pacheco said. “This could really help in making the Latino population at the University feel more comfortable.”

The University has implemented the Alma program, a student-organized orientation for Latino students and their families now in its fourth year. Students are informed about the various academic and social resources that are offered to Latino students. For example, students are informed about certain study habits that would help them succeed at the University.

Latino Studies Prof. Catherine Benamou said the Alma program is important in the Latino students’ adjustment process. “A lot of these students and parents of students don’t know how American universities work since the students are first generation college-goers,” she said. “If we show them that they can feel welcome, then we will be able to maintain or even expand our Latino population.”

Benamou said the Alma program gives useful information to the students and their families. She also said the program serves as a way for people to ask questions in a situation where they might feel more comfortable than in a general orientation setting. Benamou said this will also aid them in feeling welcome at the University.

The University has also recently created its Spanish language gateway website. The website can help parents and students prepare for college, and it can help them learn what to expect from the University, Benamou said.

There are various links that are available on the Spanish website that are not immediately apparent on the English website. For example, there is a direct link to several Latino organizations.

Pacheco said the transition process for Latino students into the University can be complex.

“One thing that Latinos have to deal with is their identity,” he said. “It is very hard for them to feel comfortable in this type of environment because most Latinos come from an environment that is mostly Latino. The transition could be very hard.”

But Gutierrez said she believes changes need to be made to the current programs for Latino students. “What the University currently offers for the Latino population through student organizations and the Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs is at its maximum,” she said. “In the future, I believe that the University needs to increase its staffing with certain programs and make several other changes with staffing.”

Last year, several students in La Voz Latina advocated for a Latino coordinator in MESA as part of a coalition, Student Voices in Action, that pushed for increased funding for student services, criticized the University for not hiring a Latino coordinator. The office hired Angela Mu