Latino students at UW-Madison feel as if they are not fully part of campus life, a graduate student told the school’s chief diversity officer Tuesday at the school’s annual diversity forum.
“Latino students, documented and undocumented, feel left out,” MollyJo Bautch said during the question-and-answer period following a informational presentation on a federal program that has protected undocumented students from deportation. “What steps are you taking to bridge the gap and reach out?”
Students need to step up and take an active role in improving the campus climate for traditionally underrepresented groups, replied Patrick Sims, who is also the campus vice provost for diversity and campus climate.
“We certainly have a lot of work to do to reach out to all our communities, the native American community, the Latinx community, the African-American community, all the traditionally marginalized groups,” said Sims. “That said, I need partnerships, we need voices. I need students to participate.”
The exchange occurred at the end of a presentation on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly known as DACA, a federal program deferring deportation for qualified undocumented immigrants brought the United States as children.
Panelists were Salvador Carranza, senior policy advisor, University of Wisconsin System; Fabiola Hamdan, Dane County immigration affairs specialist; Shiva Bidar, chief diversity officer at UW Health, and co-chair of the Latino Health Council of Dane County; and Gloria Reyes, deputy mayor for public safety, civil rights and community services.
The Obama-era DACA program, which President Trump rescinded in September, has enabled college students across the country to become open about their immigration status without fear of immediate deportation. Concerns are emerging about what will happen when that protected status begins to expire for students in March, even as some in Congress attempt to salvage the program.
But at UW-Madison, the sense of being outside the mainstream reaches beyond immigration status, Bautch said.
“There’s a lot of disconnect,” Bautch said in a later interview. “I’ve talked to many students who don’t feel welcome on this campus. They don’t know about Latino students and there’s not a central location on campus for Latino students.’’
She is a second-year graduate student studying educational leadership and policy analysis who she struggled to find her way as a Latina first-generation undergraduate at UW-Madison.
Students of color at UW-Madison report that they sometimes feel they don’t fit in.
Just over half — 51 percent — of Latinos participating in a recent survey of UW-Madison students on campus climate said they “very or extremely” often felt as if they “belong” on campus.
That compares to 33 percent of African-American students and 69 percent of students overall.
Latino students are a fast-growing demographic among UW-Madison students. There were 2,059 undergraduate students identifying as Latino or Hispanic in 2016, compared to 1,342 in 2007, an increase of more than 53 percent.
Sims on Tuesday said there have been instances where students have not responded to invitations to serve on an advisory council or partner with campus officials on various efforts to improve diversity and inclusion.
“We’ve had some progress, but not as much as I would like in terms of some of the outcomes,” Sims told a group gathered for what was billed as a Town Hall on DACA.
To make progress, specific ideas for improvement are important, he said.
“What is helpful is the degree to which there are solutions and we can partner to put new efforts or ideas forward,” he said.
“I need allies to speak up and speak out,” Sims said. A variety of voices speaking on an issue can resonate with others and about action, he said.
Bautch offered a specific idea for embracing the Latino student community in an interview with a reporter: A cultural center.
“We want a central location where Latino students can feel at home and feel welcome,” she said. “A cultural center would be something that provides that space for us.”
The campus, in response to student urging, in May opened the Black Cultural Center, a separate space in the Multicultural Center.
Bautch said the existing MeCha House on campus, headquarters for a Chicano student organization, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán de UW-Madison, does not suffice.
“We want something that is institutionalized; something that does not have ties to an agenda,” she said. “A space where students can go to feel supported and be themselves, be their whole person.”
Bautch said that often in the classroom and other spaces on campus, Latino students have to “code-switch,” or speak another language literally or figuratively, to fit in.
Discussion panel member Reyes from the Madison mayor’s office, urged Latino students in general to seek out support from beyond the campus among activists on Latino issues.
“We can support you to ensure you are feeling safe and like a part of this university,” Reyes said.