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Black college presidents get orientation to Hispanic culture

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Marcela Gomez, director of a Hispanic marketing group, speaks about Hispanic culture, as Wanda Bigham, staff executive with the Board of Higher Education and Ministry, listens.
Sept. 26, 2006

By Linda Green*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — The burgeoning Hispanic population has become a target for recruitment efforts by historically-black colleges across the United States.

Leaders of black colleges related to the United Methodist Church are discussing whether they should jump on that bandwagon. The presidents of the denomination’s historically black colleges focused their Sept. 18-20 meeting here on Hispanic/Latino/Mexican American culture. The group discussed how their schools can recruit large numbers of Hispanic students and still maintain their foundational mission to African Americans.

The Council on Presidents is an organization of the presidents and president emeriti of the denomination’s 11 historically black colleges and universities. Larry Earvin, president of Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, Texas, is council president.

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Larry Earvin
Earvin told United Methodist News Service that the council began discussions last year about ways to secure the future of the 11 schools. As a part of those discussions, the presidents considered reaching out to the growing Hispanic population.

“Their needs for education and to be able to assimilate into the mainstream are similar to those that had been negotiated by the African-American population,” Earvin said.

For two days, the presidents addressed the topic, “Forging Bold New Paths: Offering Welcome and Ministry to Hispanic-Latino Students at Black College Fund Schools.” They heard from the director of a Hispanic marketing group and Hispanic and Latino youth and leaders to gain a glimpse of Hispanic life, the various cultures and immigration issues.

They were told that it is a common misconception in the United States for people of Hispanic origin to be regarded as a single race, but the term “Hispanic” applies to people of many races and ethnic origins. The estimated U.S. Hispanic population is 41.3 million, a figure that does not include the 3.9 million residents of Puerto Rico, the presidents were told. The presidents also learned that one-third of Hispanics living in the United States are under 18 years old, and Mexicans are the youngest demographic of that group, with 37 percent being younger than 18.

“This workshop focused on an orientation on the profile of various Hispanic and Latino populations within the United States and the various dimensions we would have to pursue to be successful in serving that population,” Earvin said. Some of the colleges already have a number of Hispanics enrolled, and the presidents of those schools shared those experiences.

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A UMNS photo by Linda Green

Henry Tisdale, president of Claflin University, and Trudie Reed, president of Bethune-Cookman College, share a moment during the Council of Presidents’ meeting.
The presidents’ meeting was in response to an invitation from the Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Del Pino invited the group to engage in conversation about the possible future mission of the schools.

He told the council that as leaders of the largest group of church-related black academic institutions of any Protestant denomination, they have a non-negotiable leadership role in forging new and creative ways to address the challenges and opportunities of an ever-changing landscape in higher education.

Del Pino said the schools “have been on the cutting edge of providing a caliber of leaders in the church and society that have made a critical difference in the course of our national life,” and now the presidents must pay attention to changing demographic realities.

Cost barrier

The presidents are cautious about increasing the number of Hispanic/Latino/Mexican-American students. Cost is a major factor. “Whenever you are going to reach a population that is going to require additional intervention ... that is a very expensive proposition,” Earvin said. “That is one of the reasons why you find public institutions and research institutions taking that aspect of a curriculum out and giving it to community colleges to do. It really is a significant venture that you have to pursue.”

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Larry Earvin (second from right) addresses the Council of Presidents as Elias Blake (center), former president of Clark College, looks on.
The presidents are committed to being of assistance, but that “does not mean that we have the resources in hand to be able to do that,” Earvin said. He added that the church’s historically black institutions already serve students who have significant deficits and needs when they come to college. “We know firsthand what it costs to remediate or intervene in those instances,” he said.

“Even though we have the expertise and we have the experience of being successful, we know what it will require to be more successful,” Earvin said. “There is no way to redeploy the limited resources we already have to be able to take on this new challenge, so it would require a investment from our partner, which is the United Methodist Church, for us to be able to launch such an initiative.”

Possible tension

The council established a committee to “canvass the landscape” of the 11 historically black colleges” to determine capacity and how they might have a more defined approach to embracing Hispanic/Latino students, including addressing the tensions that arise when new ethnicities are introduced into populations with another group as the majority.

“Whenever you bring different groups together, you are going to have tensions,” Earvin said, adding that Mexican-Americans are 15 percent of Huston-Tillotson’s students.

“Those tensions seem to subside when the institution is sensitive to what it is getting into,” he said. He noted the tensions that arose when African Americans began enrolling at white colleges and universities almost 50 years ago, and he said no thought was given to orienting and sensitizing students, faculty and alumni to the value of another culture.

The committee’s canvassing will enable a successful embrace, he said. “We do not want to have false starts, and we do not want to have situations where people do not feel welcome. It is incumbent that we take a step back and develop programs to assist institutions in this regard.”

The council took no formal action to launch an initiative to embrace Hispanic students at the colleges and universities.

Earvin said there are people who do not know that black colleges and universities are legitimate four-year liberal arts institutions and in some cases graduate and professional schools. The challenge, he said, is in crafting a message that communicates to the larger population “that we are not only historically black colleges but we are also mainstream colleges and our doors are open to everyone.”

*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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Resources

Black Colleges and Universities of the United Methodist Church

Huston-Tillotson University

General Board of Higher Education and Ministry