As Latino/Hispanic faculty associations strive to increase recruitment and retention, students are feeling the positive impact.
At some colleges and universities in the U.S., Latino/Hispanic faculty say they are finding a sense of community as members of organized associations. Not only do events — both structured and informal — enable faculty members to connect and share their experiences, they also include opportunities to connect with students and expand the pipeline to new talent in the academy.
In 2018, when the Latino Faculty and Staff Council (LFASC) at Indiana University (IU) surveyed its members about how the organization was performing and what they like the most, opportunities for social engagement and building community came out on top. The other priority for the executive council and all members, said Dr. Sylvia Martinez, LFASC’s president, is providing supports for graduate students. LFASC members are developing an emergency fund that will help students facing financial challenges or who need funds to help cover registration and other expenses related to attending conferences in their field.
Building community and mutual support helps faculty, staff and students stay focused and feel a sense of satisfaction.
The Chicano/Latino Faculty & Staff Association (CLFSA) at Arizona State University (ASU) was formed in 1970. As it prepares to mark a half century, some of the same issues that it confronted in the beginning remain relevant. Key among them, said CLFSA’s president, Dr. Sarah Amira de la Garza, associate professor and Southwest Borderlands Scholar, is improving recruitment, retention and success of Chicano/Latino faculty and staff.
“Right now, we’re looking at growing awareness that the institution is becoming increasingly Latino and may, in fact, in the future qualify to become a Hispanic Serving Institution,” says de la Garza. According to Excelencia in Education’s 2018 report on emerging Hispanic Serving Institutions, 20.4 percent of Arizona State University undergraduates are Latino/Hispanic.
“Because of that, we’re extremely committed to supporting those students who are in the university because the purpose for the faculty and staff is the success of the students.”
Each academic year, CLFSA awards five scholarships to undergraduate students, the Laura Rendón Scholars, named for the former ASU faculty member who endowed the scholarships. Since 2007, $250,000 in scholarships have been awarded. In addition to the money, each scholar is paired with a faculty or staff mentor and invited to CLFSA events.
“Undergraduates improve our awareness of where our work needs to go to be interesting and important to the whole community and not simply an academic venture,” says de la Garza.
At the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), the Latin and Hispanic Faculty Association (LHFA) promotes the recruitment and retention of faculty and students. Their focus also includes developing and reviewing curriculum that reflects the Latino experience.
Founded in June 2011, LHFA currently has 29 members at different stages of their careers, including one post-doctoral fellow. These members comprise six percent of current UMBC faculty. UMBC has a vibrant post-doctoral program, which attracts underrepresented minorities. “Our goal is to introduce them to the whole academic life with the hopes they will stay with us,” says Dr. Ana Maria Schwartz Caballero, LHFA’s chairperson and an associate professor of Spanish and second language education.
UMBC’s Underrepresented Minority Faculty Executive Committee, which Schwartz Caballero co-chairs with Dr. Philip Rous, UMBC’s provost, includes three LHFA members. is fall, LHFA is expected to examine data about the hiring, retention and promotion of Latino faculty.
“I have worked with Latino faculty who had problems during their promotion and tenure process,” says Schwartz Caballero.
To improve recruitment and retention of Latino and Hispanic faculty, study and committees matter, but faculty members agree that regular engagement within the organizations to which they belong and with students are also important.
Since she arrived at IU in 2006, Martinez says she has found a sense of community with the Latino Faculty and Staff Council. Lillian Casillas, director of IU’s La Casa Latino Cultural Center, receives a list of faculty members who have self-identified as Latino or Hispanic and invites them to the council’s monthly lunches. This year’s inaugural luncheon drew nearly 60 people.
“At a place like IU, it’s really important because Latino faculty may be the only Latino/Latina in their department,” Martinez says. “We don’t want them to feel isolated.”
Some lunches are open to all faculty and some are organized by gender. But common to them all are conversations that range from the tenure process to the micro-aggressions that some experience on campus to family obligations and work-life balance. These gatherings are also where connections are made.
For graduate students who are invited to the lunches, it can be the place to shine and network. After meeting a standout student at a recent luncheon, Martinez decided to hire and work with her on a research project. Every semester there is a guest speaker. Latina faculty members also gather for casual evenings out, which Martinez says is great for stress-free bonding.
Structured scenarios are also beneficial. When it comes to recruitment and retention, CLFSA’s role includes keeping a watchful eye on universities, ensuring that they take an active and formal part in the process. The university should also have institutionalized procedures in place, particularly for retention, says de la Garza, rather than leaving it for CLFSA to handle it themselves.
Due to the large size of the university (undergraduate enrollment over 40,000), CLFSA, with membership of approximately 150, tries to make sure that faculty and staff know the channels for support services. Members can reach out to other members to find out how to access various training and professional development opportunities and also learn how to file the appropriate paperwork, grievances or concerns.
“The organization and the officers provide a network of individuals who are connected and able to help,” says de la Garza. “In order to increase retention and satisfaction, the working climate and a positive, supportive atmosphere is vital — not only for faculty and staff, but for the students, so the students can tell it’s a place where the staff and faculty are happy to be working and in agreement with the mission of the institution.”
At IU, Casillas reaches out to LFASC members to attend and participate in panels aimed at undergraduates. The council tends to be more directly engaged with graduate students because the university offers resources to undergrads. Martinez hopes that seeing diverse representation in the faculty inspires undergraduate and graduate students.
“There’s a lot of power in representation,” she says.
As an organization, LFASC does not take an active role in the local Latino and Hispanic community, Martinez says, but as individuals, a number of council members are engaged. Community members are invited to one LFASC event per semester, and turnout is often high. She was recently a member of the Bloomington Commission for the Status of Women.
ASU’s CLFSA provides ways for members to be involved in the local community. Many members have worked with grassroots organizations, including in the arts and in healthcare. “We’re known for being very busy in service,” says de la Garza.
Hoping to facilitate the hiring of self-identified Latino/Hispanic faculty, LHFA is informed when candidates come to the UMBC campus. They greet them, take them out for coffee or a meal, and answer questions.
“Our practice to meet with candidates when they come to campus has become institutionalized,” says Schwartz Caballero, noting that other affinity faculty groups have now adopted the practice. She added that these opportunities to meet are “part of the information that candidates receive.”
The LHFA at UMBC advocates for the recruitment and retention of undergraduate students, meeting with people from admissions to get updates on their efforts to recruit Latino students. Schwartz Caballero says if students know that there are faculty members not only interested in seeing them attend UMBC, but also seeing them succeed as students, it can make all the difference in student success.