Another school year begins and Latinos across the country are entering college in record numbers. Your first days in college will certainly produce anxiety, excitement, and lots of questions. Below are some thoughts and practical advice for freshman students from Latino/as who have "been there, done that" when it comes to education.
Own Your Voice
First of all, accept the fact that you will never fully feel like you are on top of things or have what it takes. All this means is that you’re a human being and the sooner you get over the impossibility of perfection the better you’ll perform. Unfortunately, students of color are often doubly burdened by unrealistic fears and insecurities so don’t let these normal feelings of inadequacy stop you! Dare to speak out and stretch your comfort level.
Trust me: everyone is just as scared as you, and many of us professors of color also struggle with these feelings in different contexts at the university. The difference is that some of us dare to own our voices and refuse to be stopped by these feelings. Be one of these people.
Ensure your professors know you. Go to their office hours, ask questions, visit with them. Start your papers and assignments early and remember that the key to good writing is rewriting so be prepared to rewrite your paper as many times as necessary. Avoid incompletes like the plague. Use your writing center or any writing program offered by your institution. Everyone needs help with writing.
Finally, learn about the many opportunities to learn outside the classroom and find a social activity, club or interest group that will keep you grounded and balanced.
Arlene Davila is Professor of Anthropology, Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University.
Learn to Set the Bar High for Yourself!
I have been teaching freshmen for close to 17 years, and the majority of my students are Chicano/Latino, with many of them first generation college students. I spend the first weeks of my classes challenging my students to set the bar high for themselves, which means they have a rigorous weekly reading and writing load. I want my students to learn from the beginning that College is WORK and that they are building a new skill set as college students. Professors do not want to hear you complain and whine about the workload, something that high school students often do and get away with in the classroom.
When my students whine about the workload, I say: “I have 120 two page essays to read this week and grade, do you want to trade places?” Of course, they say “No!”, but I want my students to learn that just as they are working hard in my class, I am working hard for them. We are in the struggle together—we are creating a “learning and working community”. As professors, we are here to help you succeed, but you need to take ownership over your learning and let us know when you need help. That is also important to successful community building—communication. So make sure to visit your professor’s office hours—we are waiting for you!
Once again, College is WORK, so it is important to practice good time management skills and plan ahead. I tell my students to avoid doing their reading and writing in their dorms, since it is distracting and you always find someone to procrastinate with you! I tell them to check into the library, and put in hours like they are doing a work-shift. My first year students always struggle during the first semester, especially adjusting to university culture, but they are hopefully able to apply lessons learned in the second semester. I set the bar high for my students, and in all of my years of teaching, my students always rise to the challenge. And those students who tell me my class is hard and complain, of course pass the class with A’s and B’s. I tell them that they earned those grades, they put in the work, and that is what college is all about when you learn to set the bar high for yourself!
Denise M. Sandoval is a Professor in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at California State University, Northridge.
Get Involved and Take Care of Your Body
There will be numerous occasions while at college when you will have to make a decision between going to an event on campus or staying in your dorm. My advice: Go! You never know what you will learn or whom you will meet when you put a little energy into showing up.
Your campus will be covered in leaflets advertising everything from info sessions about studying abroad, to a screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, from the annual Diwali celebration, to guest speakers discussing mass incarceration. Every professor will tell you it’s important to come to class, but the real value of enrolling at a college campus (as opposed to taking courses exclusively online) is that there are hundreds of things to experience outside of class, and likely thousands of people to meet.
Being a college student requires energy, and it’s important to get your rest (especially at the end of the semester/quarter when every paper and project is due and your immune system is working at full tilt), but there will never be another time in your life where so many different types of activities are happening all around you. Make the most of it! Yes, it’s fun to binge on Netflix, but the job fair is happening from 10-3—¡Ándale! You can binge later. Yes, it’s chilly outside and warm inside, but your school is playing its rival in football—Get out there, and cheer them on! Going to college is about enhancing your life; you got in, now, it’s time to show up.
Network, Intern and Travel as Much as Possible
Remember that your uniqueness as an individual is the greatest advantage you have. Nobody can recreate your history and your experiences. While it is important to get good grades, your education is about building upon who you are as a person and one of the greatest predictors of success is how well you develop your relationships with others.
Get to know as many people as possible, particularly people who do not look like you. The vast majority of jobs and opportunities out there will be won through relationships. The real world is only four to five years away, and the real world is filled with people who cannot relate to you, but whom you will need to be able to communicate with effectively. College is the best time to do this. Have fun, but take this seriously.
Intern whenever possible. Students with large networks and access to resources will use internships to develop their career opportunities. This is the best way to get ahead. Do not graduate without interning in careers that you are interested in.
Last, you should travel as often as possible. Few things open your mind like taking in other cultures, new languages, and experiencing simply how other people do things. Take advantage of whatever programs are available at your school for travel.
Stephen A. Nuño is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Northern Arizona University and a Contributor for NBC Latino.
Establish Your Support System
In high school, your hard work and dedication were likely complemented by a support system of friends and family. Latina/o students sometimes forget that.
Quickly identify those who want you to succeed in college. This includes fellow college students, staff and faculty. Hard work is important, but there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The more willing you are to ask for help and get your questions answered, the more likely you are to complete assignments on time.
Ricardo Ramirez is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Notre Dame.
Take a Chicana/o Studies or a Latina/o Studies Class
College can feel culturally and linguistically isolating for incoming students of color. It’s overwhelming alone to navigate with a heavy backpack from point A to point B on a bicycle or skateboard. Add adult responsibilities, new foods, and roommates, and students begin to crave a sense of home.
I always encourage students from all racial backgrounds to take courses in Chicana/o Studies. For those from Latino families or neighborhoods, these courses offer a sense of familiarity within a rigorous academic frame. For those from non-Latino backgrounds, these courses prepare them for an increasingly bicultural and bilingual future (just ask Hilary Clinton’s Vice Presidential candidate, Tim Kaine).
In fact, a recent study led by Nolan Cabrera found that high school students in Arizona who took Mexican American Studies courses experienced greater student achievement.
I’ve seen how Chicano and Latino students react to courses that explore their indigenous histories, the meanings behind Chicano murals, the role of immigration legislation, and/or the impressive ability of bilingual Latinos to shift between Spanish and English. These courses provide a healthy academic foundation by fostering intellectual curiosity, greater self-esteem, and a much-needed dose of home.
Dolores Inés Casillas is an Associate Professor of Chicano/a Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.