I listen to the amazing Latinos USA podcast every week–it’s my absolute fave NPR program, second only to the late, great It’s All Politics, RIP :(. Last week’s story focused on Latinas and confidence–the first story pinpoints the problem with Latinas, confidence, and education (discussion starts at 3:3o).
I think the producer identifies the problem incredibly well when she states that often Latinas struggle to feel empowered because we fear that we’re taking something from someone. This idea that if we feel too confident, too secure in ourselves and our goals, then we’re doing something wrong. I agree with her assessment and think this is a struggle many Latinas face when it comes to empowerment (especially within the classroom). Unfortunately, this stance is substantiated by the dismal dropout statistics Latinas still encounter. In one study conducted, 98% of Latinas stated that they wanted to graduate, but one third of them believed that achieving their goal would be unlikely.
That breaks my heart.
Because it is International Women’s Day this Sunday, I wanted this week’s focus to be on struggles we face and what we can do to overcome them. So, what can we do to help more Latinas graduate high school and achieve their goals of higher education? When I read the studies on this issue, it’s obvious the the problem is two-fold. We have issues with schools not providing the right resources, but we also have problems with our homes not providing the right encouragement.
Schools: Educational institutions must be aware of cultural differences and put in place policies and create a culture that is inclusive of all parents. This often will mean having strong limited English proficiency resources and tools (which is federally mandated, but often not at the level that it should be). There is often a pushback from administrators and mainstream communities to help LEP parents, but in order for parents to fully participate they have to be able to communicate with the school. There should also be a push for more people of color to join the teaching ranks. It is so vital for students to see all types of educators. The argument here isn’t that only people of color can teach students of color, but rather to push back against the status quo that seems to say (by it’s current makeup) that only white people are capable of teaching others.
Homes: Latino parents have to become more involved in their children’s education. It’s not enough to assume that an educational institution will do its best for children of color. If we really, truly want the dropout rates to decrease, then parents need be informed of their rights as parents and empowered to question, participate, and advocate for their children. Outside of that, Latino parents need to encourage their daughters in their education. A barrier many Latinas face is being expected to take on too many familial obligations that impact their ability to study or participate in extracurricular activities. Most importantly, parents have to provide their daughters with straight forward and comprehensive sex-education. Until Latinas no longer have the highest rate of teen pregnancy and birth rate in the country; education will continue to be a struggle. And please, let’s stop the double standard of teaching our boys one thing and girls another.
Ok, I know it’s easy to write out recommendations, but what can we actually do right now?
one. Invest in Latinas. If you’re able to do so, then give financial donations to different programs. Find local groups that provide mentoring, after-school programing, or counseling (young Latinas also have the highest rates of depression). You can also join a young professional board or help fundraise through other ways. You may think you don’t earn enough to make substantial donations, but as someone who works at a non-profit, I know the value of even the smallest donation; whatever you can give–will help.
two. Mentor Latinas. If you don’t have the money, but have the time, then volunteer at organizations that focus on helping young Latinas achieve their goals. Get involved with agencies where you can mentor high school students or volunteer at community centers. We also shouldn’t forget the changes we can make at home. If you have younger family members, make sure to reach out to them and show them that Latinas can graduate high school, go to college, and earn degrees in higher education. Push back against unfair gender roles that impede educational success and be willing to provide information and counsel to those younger family members.
three. Vote. Vote in whichever way you decide best aligns with your beliefs, but really take the time to learn about the issues and vote accordingly–in local and national elections! But more than an individual vote, encourage your friends and family to get out there and vote as well. Ultimately, we can fight for our younger sisters’ educations when we finally elect people that are accountable to us.
What else can we do to improve Latinas’ access to education?