As the population of the Hispanic community in Illinois rises, more efforts are being made to promote public policy for minorities.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported in 2012, it was estimated more than 16 percent of the population of Illinois identified as Hispanic or Latino. Despite this, less than 6 percent of the university identifies as Hispanic or Latino.
Executive Director of the Latino Policy Forum, Sylvia Puente, gave a speech titled “Fuerza Latina, A Paradox of Success and Hardship,” Monday in the Student Center. The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute and the Hispanic Resource Center co-sponsored the event.
The Latino Policy Forum is a non-profit organization out of Chicago working statewide to promote resources, access and investment in the Latino community, Puente said.
“The forum informs, influences and leads to close inequality gaps that exist in society,” Puente said.
According to Puente’s presentation, the goals of the forum are to improve education outcomes, advocate for affordable housing, promote just immigration policies and engage diverse sectors of the community.
Puente said although the Hispanic community has seen extensive growth over the past decade, resource investment has not kept pace.
The focus of the lecture was to articulate the emerging paradigm of how to understand who the Latino community is, Puente said.
Puente said we need to invest in pre-kindergarten education for the growing Latino and Hispanic population to have success later in life.
“Despite their growth, Latino children have the least amount of access to early education,” she said.
Puente said Latino community members gaining influential positions in the state are steps towards improving educational outcomes.
“We are no longer the outside advocators looking in. We have Latino leaders in every major educational institution in the state. The four legislative committees in the House and the Senate that work on education appropriations of substance are chaired or co-chaired by Latino legislators,” Puente said. “We have three Latino superintendents and several assistant superintendents. They are all in influential seats now, so how do we step up?”
In Dec. 2010, the university introduced the Hispanic Resource Center as part of the Center for Inclusive Excellence, a unit within the Dean of Students.
Dr. Luisa Ballester-Concepcion, coordinator of the Hispanic Resource Center, said the center works to empower students through leadership. They provide services to students including workshops and seminars, social and cultural events, community involvement and mentorship, Spanish language support, professional networking and support groups.
One of their initiatives is a peer mentor program pairing upperclassmen with freshman students.
“They support the students in terms of academic, social and personal, and give them suggestions and information on how to succeed in college,” Ballester-Concepcion said.
Ballester-Concepcion said she has seen more Hispanic students participate at the university since the opening of the Hispanic Resource Center.
“We collaborate with a lot of offices within campus and the administration is very aware and very cooperative,” she said.
Gabriel Garcia, a senior from Chicago studying geography and environmental resources, said he would like to see more Hispanic students from the university become more involved in politics.
“I would like to see more of a diverse political affiliation,” Garcia said. “So students from all backgrounds that want to study a variety of disciplines and careers can find assistance and resources.”
According to the university’s 2012-2013 fact book, the total fall enrollment for 2012 was 18,847. Of this total, undergraduates made up 14,130 students, graduate students accounted for 4,070 and doctorial students made up the remaining 647.
The fact book also stated 1,069 of these students identified as Hispanic. Undergraduates accounted for 914 students, graduates accounted for 133 and doctoral students made up the remaining 22.
Kyle Sutton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter at @KyleSutton_DE or at 536-3311 ext. 268.