Assistant Professor of sociology and El Instituto: The Institute of Latina/o, Caribbean and Latin American Studies at the University of Connecticut Daisy Verduzco Reyes spoke about her book, “Learning to Be Latino,” and the research she undertook to write it in a lecture sponsored by the women and gender studies and sociology departments, as well as the Center for Public Ethics and Engagement on Oct. 30 in Valders 206.
In her book and lecture, Reyes addressed how different college contexts shape the experiences of Latinx students, how these contexts then shape how students draw boundaries within their ethnic communities and how they choose identity labels. She used these ideas as the basis of her dissertation during graduate school, then rewrote it and undertook more research to complete her book while she was on the tenure track.
“I myself was a first-generation college student in a predominantly white campus, and I found that I really needed to find a community and that these communities were student organizations,” Reyes said. “So that’s why I became interested in studying Latino student organizations as a vehicle for integrating Latino students on campus.”
The representation and retention of students who come from a Latinx background was one of the main focuses of Reyes’ lecture. She studied six total Latinx organizations on three different California college campuses, which included a residential liberal arts college, a regional public college, and a research university. Reyes used these various schools and organizations to research how a Latinx identity was constructed based on the college environment that surrounded them.
Reyes also wanted the audience to understand the dynamics and experiences created by colleges such as Luther for the Latinx students and faculty. Structuring resources equitably, providing opportunities for students of historically underrepresented backgrounds, and combating microaggressions are all general issues on college campuses that Reyes spoke about.
“I’m not interested in creating intercultural dialogue if we don’t first focus on the success and retention of students of color,” Reyes said. “That’s my priority. Hire people, admit students, and once they’re doing well, then you can use them for dialogue if they’re interested in having dialogue.”
These research topics resonated with some of the audience members who had experienced the ways in which Luther’s campus influenced their Latinx identity, especially in regards to representation of students. Salomé Valdivieso (‘23) introduced Reyes at the lecture and afterwards connected what Reyes spoke about to her experience as an international student from Ecuador.
“I think it is essential to have Latino American studies on campus, because I don’t feel represented in academia,” Valdivieso said. “I don’t feel represented among staff members. There are not enough people of color who are teaching classes, so that creates power dynamics inside a classroom.”
Professor of Sociology Char Kunkel invited Reyes because of the connection her work has in relation to the effect of Luther’s small, liberal arts campus on its student body, and to represent the Latinx community at Luther.
“At this political moment, the Luther college student body is changing,” Kunkel said. “The demographics of the United States are changing. There are more young people coming to college from a Latinx background than there were ever before. We need to be able to attract those students and to retain them at Luther, and so thinking about how we contribute to a Latinx identity is important for us to do in terms of recruitment and retention.”
Latines Unides members had the chance to engage with Reyes face to face before her lecture at an informal dinner meeting on Oct. 29. Secretary of Latines Unides Rachelle Sullivan (‘22) attended the dinner and believed it was important to have Reyes speak on campus.
“I think it’s just a good way for us to have someone advocate and speak out for our Latinx students,” Sullivan said.
Assistant Professor of Africana Studies and History Kelly Sharp is the faculty advisor of Latines Unides and helped organize the informal dinner and the lecture. Reyes provided an opportunity for Latinx students on campus to express concerns about curriculum and the microaggressions they face on Luther’s campus with someone who has done extensive and relevant research on those topics.
“I’ve already heard from students in the group that have said that it was one of the best experiences of their time at Luther,” Sharp said. “I hope that it makes them feel validated from the side of the faculty, that we see and hear their desire to learn more about their latinidad and have more academic and curricular experiences with that.”
Students interested in learning more can attend Latines Unides meetings on Wednesdays from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the Mott Room or contact Sharp for more information.