villescas research, media & instruction presents...
By studying at the undergraduate level, and then pursuing a graduate degree, Latinos may gain influence in the highest levels of our society. Every year I work to create opportunities to cultivate college-bound Latino high school students from across the country by collaborating with non-profit organizations to carry out public speaking and leadership training, in addition to the personal mentorship I take on myself. After doing this for over a decade, I have been witness to their evolution from inexperienced students to young leaders in multiple domains.
But yesterday, one of my brightest pupils informed me that he would no longer be enrolled at his selective liberal arts university because he has been seduced by the allure of toiling in the "trenches" of the non-profit world. This is a tragedy on many levels. On a larger scale, I want him to continue his education so that he in turn can mentor other Latinos to pursue advanced degrees. While this is not the first time I've seen students lose their way in a decade of this work, this is the first time I feel the loss so potently.
For the first time I feel that losing this particular young man as an emerging Latino intellectual will not only stop him in his tracks, but damage the growing Latino population as a whole. Because in order to actualize the power of numbers, we need Latino thinkers to address challenges that the future will present, and combine academic learning with community-based solutions. In short, just as it is a waste of this young man -born in 1991 and therefore one of the last 20th century Latino males who carries the lessons of that time in our collective lives - to be under-educated in the decades ahead, inhibiting his future prospects and diminishing his utility as a Latino expert.
So, I did what most people would do in such a situation: I chewed him out for being impulsive, shortsighted and falling behind his cohort. At this critical moment in the tripling of the U.S. Latino population, our nation is in need of a new intelligentsia who can conceptualize the challenges that the future will present, and how best to maximize the transnational resources as well as markets that the global Latino population intrinsically possesses. If you stop now, I told him, you will miss your chance and the Latino population's chance to move forward in a real and important way.
You cannot stop now, or skip any steps, because you will truncate your potential, I said. Yet, because his college campus has limited student diversity and a finite range of course offerings conducive for Latino-focused studies, he feels stifled intellectually and marginalized culturally, even as he's positioned as a symbol of multiculturalism there. He feels pressured to become a benevolent token of minority inclusion when, ironically, he does not perceive his Latino identity from the vantage point of a disenfranchised member of an ethnic minority. Meanwhile, the non-profit domain provides direct access to Latino students, families and organizations and, throughout that domain, he is intellectually valued and culturally stimulated.
Is it any wonder why he might refuse the "full ride" with less than a few semesters to go?
After contemplating this exchange, I realize here is my chance to compel a brilliant Latino to return to the classroom while utilizing the next few semesters to conduct research and participate in regional initiatives that accelerate his development. I want him to go beyond the undergraduate level. I want him to hone his creative and analytical abilities while completing one or more graduate degree programs in a manner that directly corresponds to his activities with Latino students and non-profit organizations. There is no degree program in America that will adequately prepare him to conceptualize the resources and address the challenges that the future will present to the U.S. or transnational Latino community - he will need to learn from both professors in the classroom and mentors operating outside of academia to be ready for his journey beyond graduation.
All that I can advise him and others like him is to stay in school, be passionate about your studies, find your voice, get ahead on your final projects, finish multiple degree programs and learn how to link your short-term academic interests with your longitudinal civic and professional pursuits. Your own future, and that of 50 million-plus Latinos, depend not just on the completion of your advanced degrees, but that you go through each of these academic milestones increasingly aware of the power you have to shape your country's future.
Joseph P. A. Villescas, Ph.D.is an independent consultant, writer and instructor. He conducts extensive investigations on Latino and other multidimensional populations that explore trends in their educational development, media consumption, internet usage, voting behaviors, racial categorization, organizational capacities and readiness for future leadership roles in community settings. He is the founder and owner of Villescas Research, Media & Instruction, LLC .