Students call for Latino reps in admissions, studies center

Students, faculty and administrators gathered for a panel discussion on the state of Latinos at the University Thursday night at Love Auditorium in the Levine Science Research Center.

The forum, which was attended by approximately 65 people, was hosted by Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc. Sophomore Brian Ovalle said he was inspired to organize the event after reading an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education called "How Elite Universities Fail Latino Students."

"Once we checked the box on our application that we were Latino, we signed on to be the leaders of our community," Ovalle said. "Coming from a top-five university, the future leaders of the Latino community will come from here."

In addition to a panel of 12 students, event organizers invited several administrators-including Sue Wasiolek, dean of students, Todd Adams, assistant dean of students, and Eddie Hull, executive director of housing services and dean of residence life-to attend and participate in the dialogue.

During a brief presentation, Ovalle and senior Brian Flores listed lack of resources, limited numbers of applicants, over-representation of wealthier Latinos in the student body and a failure to recognize the differences between different Latino groups as shortcomings at the University.

In response, Flores outlined three primary areas of focus in solving current problems. First, he suggested establishing student liaisons to work with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions to increase the Latino applicant pool. Currently, 6.7 percent of the student body is Latino.

Second, he called for a follow-up on a proposal President Richard Brodhead made to create a Presidential Task Force to evaluate the University's success in addressing Latino issues.

Finally, Flores called for the creation of a full-scale Latino Studies Center with a tenured, senior faculty member acting as director.

Latino studies addresses the role of Latinos within American society-their immigration to the United States and their current and future positions in American society. Panelists said there is a misunderstanding on campus regarding the difference between Latino studies and Latin American studies, which focuses on culture and history in Latin American nations.

Duke currently has a Latino/a Studies Initiative that offers research funding and lectures as well as other services, but attendees complained that they must travel to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in order to take Latino studies classes.

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag, who attended the event, said he would be supportive of student-led Latino recruitment teams.

"I think that when we're talking about Duke, students have the greatest credibility when talking to prospective students," Guttentag said. "I really like the idea of a liaison program."

Chrissy Cortina, coordinator of Latino recruitment in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, said that while she agreed with some of the concerns voiced, she felt that students need to be careful in their rhetoric.

"It's true that we need more Latinos, but it's troubling to use what we call identity politics," she said. "I think you do a lot of people a great injustice if you make a blanket statement that, 'You don't understand me.'"

Cortina said she had also encountered problems finding hosts for Latino Student Recruitment Weekend-for example, she said, a student of Cuban descent may only want to host another Cuban.

"As Latinos, we do have a wonderfully diverse background," she said. "But when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, sometimes those things draw us apart."

Although freshman Cathy Zhou said she attended the event largely because she has some Latino friends, she said she was still interested in what she learned.

"It really puts some perspective on the issue-because the Latino population is so little, I don't focus on it much," she said. "This made me realize the need for a Latino center on campus."


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