Coming TogetherCalifornia State University-Dominguez Hills establishes support group to encourage
retention among Latina studentsFor the 28 percent Latina student body population at California State University-Dominguez Hills, the “Latinas Juntas” program is just the type of networking event the women on campus need in order to know who and what resources are available to them.
Started by two of the university’s clinical psychologists, Dr. Denna Sanchez and Dr. Monica Rosas-Baines, Latinas Juntas — literally meaning “Latinas together” — aims to provide a forum where female students can come together and discuss issues relevant to their educational success such as graduation and retention.
Sanchez and Rosas-Baines decided to start the program after attending last year’s “Latina Connection Conference” at CSU-Long Beach where they witnessed the fostering of networking opportunities between faculty and Latina students. “We both left feeling empowered, inspired and anxious to develop a similar program for our students here at CSUDH,” Sanchez says.
As psychologists working together on the campus, Sanchez and Rosas-Baines understood the need for students to feel connected as a means for educational success. They also are keenly aware of the variety of issues that can interfere with student retention such as academics, separation from family, relationships, financial issues, etc. However, they add, in addition to these typical issues, Latinas experience additional cultural demands. And, as Latinas themselves, Sanchez and Rosas-Baines could relate to the cultural and personal demands of many of their students.
On a campus where Latinas outnumber the men 2:1, they are often faced with unique pressures — especially if they are the first in their family to attend college or would like to go out of state to pursue another degree.
“It’s difficult for many of our students to negotiate the traditional values of their culture, such as family and clearly defined gender role expectations, and their desire for higher education,” Rosas-Baines says. “We give them the challenges and ask, ‘What can you do?’ ”
Adds Sanchez, “We give the support so they don’t feel alone.”
The one-day program, which was held earlier this month, promises to turn into an annual event. Besides the raffle prizes and book scholarships, the agenda includes five experiential workshops:
l Challenging students to take personal responsibility for their education;
l Exploring the role of culture and family in their academic careers;
l Actively engaging students in personal and interpersonal development;
l  Promoting self-awareness;
l Acknowledging and celebrating the diversity of the Latina community; and
l Establishing a supportive network between Latina students, faculty and staff.
Sanchez and Rosas-Baines also hope more mentors on the campus can help bridge the communication gap between students and faculty, because “good Latina faculty make good mentors.”
In addition to Latinas Juntas, CSUDH will be offering “Nosotras” (meaning “like us”), a weekly Latina support group where students can discuss their challenges as a group or individually.
“We want to leave them with something more… we want to help create a permanent supportive network between Latina students, faculty and staff,” Sanchez says.  —  By Shilpa Banerji



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