Center for Mexican-American Studies creates home for students

Mason Carroll

As a first generation student from Laredo, Texas, Ilse Colchado felt out of place when she began her college journey. She felt underrepresented and lost — until she found her home at the Center for Mexican-American Studies.

The Hispanic population makes up 20 percent of UT’s student body, according to UT’s 2017–2018 Statistical Handbook. Colchado, Mexican-American studies and anthropology junior, said her transition was difficult because she came from an environment with a majority Hispanic population to an environment where she was in the minority.

“I didn’t feel represented as a brown student, and so I added Mexican-American studies after my first year,” Colchado said. “That was where I felt like I belonged on campus, especially with having professors of color who integrated their own stories of survival.”

Center director John Morán González also came from a majority Hispanic background.

“Me personally, it goes back to the story of where I grew up, Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville,” González said. “There, it was normal to see (Mexican-Americans) as professionals and at every level.”

Of the 3,162 faculty members at UT, 257, or 8.1 percent, are Hispanic, according to UT’s Statistical Handbook. Last spring, the University created a Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan as a blueprint for optimal future diversity and inclusion efforts. One part of the plan is to create a diverse faculty recruitment plan.

Leonard N. Moore, vice president for the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, said he believes having people from different backgrounds makes the learning environment better for everyone.

“It can’t be an add-on,” Moore said. “Diversifying the University faculty has to be central to our mission.”

Even though the Hispanic faculty is small overall, Colchado said she has worked with a majority of Mexican-American professors in her degree, and it is helpful to see someone that looks like she does. It has inspired her to get her Ph.D. and pursue education.

“I think being in Mexican-American studies has really been a healing part of my college career because I finally felt like I belonged and that I was at home,” Colchado said. “Seeing (Hispanic professors) in a position of power goes to show there is a possibility that inspires me that I could be a professor one day.”

Moore said it is beneficial for students to experience a diverse faculty no matter what ethnicity they are, because people understand different perspectives when they are around others with different experiences. He also said it is beneficial for minority students to be around faculty who are also in the minority.

“It’s refreshing,” Moore said. “You feel like that if nobody else gets it, that person will.”

González said he teaches for everyone, and the center is open to everyone. He said the University is about cultivating the future leaders of our society, and students have to be able to see people like them in those positions.

“Excellence through diversity,” González said. “That diversity is really a fundamental component, it’s not an add-on component. The pursuit of diversity is the pursuit of excellence.”