Our place in history ...

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Testimonios: Our Experiences with the Latin American, Latino and Caribbean House - Solidarity with Georgetown University


The LALACS residential resource center did not exist during my time in Hanover. Through student organizations, such as La Alianza Latina, and as one of the founding members of the Dartmouth Association of Latino Alumni, I was one of many who worked tirelessly over the course of a decade to make the LALACS residential resource center a reality.

I cannot overstate how important this space is to alumni, especially those who graduated in the 1990s. Making Latino and Latin American and Caribbean Studies a permanent part of Dartmouth's academic course offerings meant that we were able to revitalize a liberal arts curriculum that failed to adequately analyze contemporary and historical phenomenon. And the establishment of a physical space where we could host various events, convene organizational practice sessions and meetings, speak openly without fear of judgement or recrimination, and grow emotionally and intellectually through experiential and academic enrichment, meant that Latino, Latina, and Latinx students and alumni would forever belong at Dartmouth. We were no longer merely visitors paying rent in the form of tuition. We were owners of the College, and its past, present, and future.

As Georgetown Class of 2015 graduate, Citlalli Alvarez, remarked, "We cannot deny that our senior year has been a striking reminder of the lasting legacy of racial oppression in our country... the country is shaken, and rightly so... to stand on the side of justice: we must build bridges... we cannot leave behind the spirit of inclusivity, of justice... We will be key stakeholders in conversations that will shape the future of our world."

To some, the idea of affinity spaces are offensive. They insist that classifying people as African American, Asian American, Native American, and Latino is divisive. They contend that any place tied to a racial/ethnic identity in an academic setting promotes segregation, and prevents students from interacting with those who are unlike them. These people are wrong. The makeup of Georgetown's student and faculty population, is not a proportional mirror of the demographics recorded in the Census.

Like Dartmouth and its fellow Ivy League schools, like Stanford in California, like Rice in Texas, like Vanderbilt in Tennessee, and like the overwhelming majority of the elite institutions of higher learning in the United States, Georgetown's student and faculty population are whiter and wealthier and more privileged than the world around them. When Georgetown graduates head into the world, they are going to be dealing with a larger number of persons from different backgrounds and experiences than they encountered during their years in academia. The whiter, wealthier, and more privileged will have gained a world class experiential education from their peers of color. These students will be better prepared to operate in a world where they are not the majority. But if you were to survey their peers of color, you would find that they have been harmed through microaggressions, and more explicit forms of harm. Which is to say that the cost of a Georgetown education for students who are not white, wealthy, and privileged is much higher than the ticket price of tuition.

That said, the benefits or diversity are demonstrably real, regardless of the metrics one uses to measure them. Fortune 500 companies have noticed that investing in their workers of color, and placing women in leadership positions is great for the bottom line, and speeds up the process of innovation, for instance. Georgetown should think of a residential resource space for its Latino, Latina, and Latinx students as an investment in its overall academic environment, as well as an investment in the well-being of these students.

A space that consistently facilitates the perspectives of Latino students who are members of the Black Diaspora, or the Jewish Diaspora, or the Islamic Diaspora, or the Amerindian/indigenous/aboriginal/First People's Diaspora, or who come from families that have been citizens for a century but are still treated as immigrants, or who are first generation Americans but enjoy every privilege because of name or skin color, or whose family roots can be tied to both East Asia and Latin America, is a space that undeniably contributes to learning.

And such a space is one that provides safe harbor from microaggressions, as well as a place to work through misunderstandings. Public health, educational achievement, and other forms of research are replete with data demonstrating that "home visits" can change the trajectory of a "provider/teacher" who is good but not great, and a "consumer/student" who is doing fine, but not thriving. It turns out that it is not speaking the same language, or sharing a common background alone that yield the greatest benefit. It is the context of interacting in a home, with all of the cultural customs and psychological comforts that entails, which allows breakthroughs to take place. It might be difficult for Georgetown to imagine itself made even more exceptional by the creation of a residential resource center for Latino, Latina, and Latinx students. But the truth is that it will be.