Hispanic Students open up about their Struggles In College” by Elisa Santana
Ever Experienced Struggles In College? Well These Hispanic Students Have
Ennis Cruz Gonzalez is a member of multiple international organizations at the University of South Florida. She was involved in the iBuddy leadership team. Has been awarded the Global Citizens Certificate.
A junior at USF, Gonzalez is majoring in linguistics and English education. Her ultimate goal is to obtain her doctorate in linguistics and become a teacher. She hopes to one day teach her students that no matter what they look like or where they may be from, they can achieve their goals by just staying true to themselves.
Despite all of her achievements and goals, Gonzalez still faces difficulties going through college as a Hispanic student. A big issue she faces is not feeling like she belongs anywhere.
“Being Puerto Rican, I always felt like I pertain to this community even though I’m not international. We share that same sense of being different and having a culture that directly affects the way we do things. But, to many students, Puerto Ricans -pretty much exclusively- are almost seen as like a different breed of people. Where we are not American enough but we are not Hispanic enough either.”
Gonzalez says even though she isn’t international, she still faces obstacles just because she is a Hispanic student.
“I specifically remember one student in my freshman year who, after finding out that my ultimate deal is to get a doctorates in linguistics, told me that it’s almost impossible for Puerto Ricans to get doctorates. Like my race or ethnicity defines my result in life,” she said.
Hispanic students deal with a lot of challenges when trying to get a degree. Whether it is economic, family support, discrimination or culture shock, Hispanic students go through a lot.
According to American Association of Community Colleges, Only 19.2 percent of Latinos between 25 and 34 had earned an associate’s degree or higher. This is less than half the average of 41.1 percent; it is also the lowest of any major racial group.
Another study, done by the American Enterprise Institute, found that many four-year colleges and universities graduate less than half of the Hispanic students.
The study found 51 percent of Hispanic students who start college complete their bachelor’s degree in six years compared to 59 percent of white students. Even the Hispanic-serving institutions – federal program created to help first generation Hispanic students – graduate less than half of Hispanic students.
There are several reasons for this graduation gap. Financial constraints, family support, discrimination and not knowing what is available on campus are all struggles Hispanics face.
Assistant director of the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean Paula Lezama has faced her share of struggles when she was a student pursuing her master’s degree.
“Financial constraints. I was not eligible for financial aid and the university offered very little financial support. Also language services was a big issue. For example, no one in the writing center spoke Spanish. There is no English as a second language support program,” Lezama said.
“Career services was another obstacle. Career services does not offer Optional Practical Training. OPT is allowed by immigration to undergraduates and graduates nine months into getting their degree. During this time, they will work for one year on a student visa to gain experience. Career services not having this program made finding a job after graduation harder. My husband – who was also a former USF student – spent a year and a half looking for work.”
Lezama works at the University of South Florida trying to help Hispanic students in any way she can. She feels universities and colleges do okay when it comes to helping Hispanic students. However, she also knows that a lot more needs to be done.
“We need to do more [at USF]. That doesn’t mean we have not been working on it. I do think we have a wide variety of support for the students but this is a big university. We still have a long way to go. Less than 7% of faculty are Latinos. Students want to find that person they can relate to them on a more personal level,” she said.
USF student Nancy Garcia also feels college campuses should do more to help Hispanic students.
“I think it varies from campus to campus. It can be hard to fit in or feel included as a Hispanic student. Besides clubs and organizations, I think college campuses should have more resources. In my case, I was able to find help at USF from a program called CAMP or College Assistance Migrant Program. They helped me apply for more scholarships, understand how to apply for classes and find resources around campus. All the students came from similar backgrounds/ethnicities, so I felt more connected and like I belonged,” she said.
Garcia is a junior majoring in elementary education and minoring in sociology. Her parents only have a middle school education and do not speak English. She did homework herself. She has had to learn English on her own. She relied on her teachers and counselors to tell her about AP classes, scholarships, community service and applying to colleges.
“Even now [in college], similar problems still follow me in regards to having to choose classes or deciding what’s best for my college career. Unlike other students whose parents have college degrees, often times Hispanic students have to figure everything out on their own.”
A study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics study how our parents’ education level can predict our education level. Basically, they found if parents are high school graduates, their kids will at least graduate high school. The study says about 30 percent of 18 to 24 year olds whose parents did not graduate from high school, reach college.
Discrimination is also an obstacle. A lot of Hispanic students are undocumented on top of everything else they have to deal with in college.
UndocUnited is an organization on the USF campus whose goal is to create a “more inclusive environment at USF for undocumented students”. Vice President of UndocUnited, Olivia Fleming, says that it is tough for undocumented students.
“Especially in this political climate; there is an extremely unhealthy outlook of Hispanic men and women. It’s one that implies that immigrants are undeserving of the same opportunities, which is often perpetuated in the media and by our own president,” she said.
“These generalizations leak onto college campuses causing other students to make obscene comments or commit hostile acts demonstrating their indifference. Such behavior creates fear among anyone who is different due to their: legal status, skin color, accent, religion, or sexual orientation. It’s absolutely dehumanizing.”
According to Pew Research Center, nearly half of Hispanics in the U.S. – or 52 percent – say they experienced discrimination.
Despite all of these issues, these ladies all agree on one thing: Hispanic students should never give up and should always ask for help.
Garcia says Hispanic students should “keep their heads up and know that there’s always a way to get through things. Don’t be afraid to ask others for help, there are plenty of amazing people and programs who can offer help. Most importantly, don’t give up! Their family’s background does not define who they are or who they will be. They can do anything they set their mind to, despite the limitations around them.”