Hispanics have long been integral to U.S. society making significant contributions including the education sector. Though many institutions of higher education have increased their priority on recruiting students from Hispanic backgrounds, the challenge remains for institutions of Christian higher education to engage in the recruitment, support, and retention of Hispanic faculty. Furthermore, the challenge remains for Christian colleges and universities to embody biblical values in the midst of increasing Hispanic populations so as to remain relevant and to be a place where all can thrive. Octavio Esqueda is the co-editor of The Hispanic Faculty Experience: Opportunities and Retention in Christian Colleges and Universities which seeks to address this need. My interview with Dr. Esqueda gives a glimpse into the background of this book and the challenges regarding Hispanic faculty, staff, and students and their place in Christian higher education.
Why did you feel a book with a focus on Hispanic faculty in Christian colleges and universities was necessary?
In many colleges and universities there has been an interest in attracting more Hispanic students but not enough focus on attracting Hispanic faculty. We wanted to hear Hispanic professors describe their journeys in the academy and the challenges they faced because we believe that representation is important. The goal of the book is to create an avenue for Hispanic faculty to share their experiences and thus provide a framework for institutions to better understand their Hispanic faculty and so plan accordingly on how to support them.
What are some of the distinctives, highlights and take-aways of this book?
The book consists of seven contributing professors who, through their writing, display the rich diversity of our community. The authors come from first, second and third generation backgrounds. For some, Spanish is their first language, for others, English is their first language, and some are fully bilingual. Some were born and socialized outside of the United States, others assimilated into mainstream White society while growing up and then embraced their family culture later in their life. There is also diversity in how the authors identify themselves using the terms Hispanic, Latino/a, Latinx, or Latine. We have given the various authors the freedom to use what terms they identify with. Another distinctive feature is that the authors bring their authentic selves; their voices represent various disciplines and stages of their academic careers. This book also seeks to increase the realization of the challenges of being a minority professor in White spaces. Such awareness is crucial for institutions that seek to recruit and retain Hispanic faculty members. Regarding structure, the authors followed a general framework that guided their writing taken from another book I co-authored, The Cruciform Faculty: The Making of a Christian Professor,1 which focuses on teaching, research, service and mentoring. Many of the contributing authors thus unpack insights and experiences in each of these domains.
Could you speak a little more about the diversity of terms by which the authors identify themselves?
There is a tendency in the United States to categorize people based on nationality, culture and language. As I mentioned, there is a great diversity of national origins and cultures within our community. The terms Hispanic, Latino/a, Latinx, and Latine all have their strengths and limitations. As a result, there is no consensus as to which is most accurate or fully captures the breadth of who we are. The contributing authors used terms in their chapters that they felt were most fitting for their narratives and perspectives.
What unique contributions do Hispanic/Latino faculty bring to Christian colleges and universities?
On the one hand, Hispanic faculty contribute to the academy just as all faculty members do, they are experts in their disciplines and strive to teach well. The added contribution is the perspectives they bring which is necessary to serve a diverse student body well. Their cultural insights enhance their ability to relate to Hispanic students. They can empathize and connect on a personal level. As far as how Hispanic faculty contribute to students from the majority White culture, this connects to the diversity of the Body of Christ and how learning is thus enhanced. Students who interact with people who look and think like they do for the majority of their time in college have a limited educational experience. When students are exposed to faculty members from diverse cultures, it broadens their perspectives and enriches their educational experience.
What are some challenges that Hispanic faculty face as they serve in Christian colleges and universities?
One challenge is that Hispanic faculty are often pressured to assimilate into the dominant culture. Hispanic faculty often struggle to bring their whole selves to the academy to feel appreciated in their academic life and contribute insights from their cultural backgrounds. I share in my chapter how many of my colleagues saw me as just a “Hispanic professor” as opposed to a scholar in my discipline. I am not a token representative; I am an academic scholar who embraces my Hispanic heritage. Another challenge is that Hispanic faculty, as well as minority faculty in general, often do more than people realize. They are asked to serve on many committees to provide diverse perspectives, students of color often come to them for guidance, counsel and support as they navigate being on a predominately White campus. While these are strengths that Hispanic faculty bring to the institution, these services are rarely acknowledged, are time-consuming, and can take time away from items necessary for promotion, such as research, writing, and publication. Another factor worth noting: from the writing of the chapters to the time this book was published, two of the contributing authors have since left their positions. It’s a reminder that illustrates how hard this journey is. Several who were invited to contribute declined due to fear of consequences or retaliation for having their stories and perspectives published.
You mention in the introduction to the book that “Hispanics and minorities are needed but not necessarily wanted.” Can you elaborate on this?
The issue with many institutions is they are seeking to increase their numbers regarding Hispanics and other diverse populations as opposed to affirming students to bring their whole and authentic selves. Having a diverse population requires us to adapt and embrace diversity as it makes the institution richer. The challenge is many institutions resist changing their structure and ethos despite their desire for a more diverse student body. This creates a conflict. Many do not realize that transformation is necessary to be Hispanic “serving” institutions and not just Hispanic “enrolling” institutions. When Hispanic students enroll in Christian colleges and universities, the expectation on the part of many institutions is for them to adapt to the dominant culture as opposed to changing their institutional structures to effectively serve the students. By not changing systemically, the message they send is that they want students from diverse backgrounds to enroll but they don’t embrace the student’s cultural identity.
There is an emphasis on the author’s stories in this book, why is this significant?
There is a tendency to think that when we talk about Hispanics we are talking about issues, not about people. Thus, stories are important, especially stories told by the professors themselves. We need to hear about struggles but also the insights and success. We chose to be vulnerable and expose the realities of our experiences and challenges as a gift to the readers. Our hope is that our experiences will encourage others and promote more understanding and validation about the divine calling of serving as Hispanic faculty members in Christian institutions.
Who are you hoping will read this book?
We have two audiences in mind. First, we hope that Hispanic professors and those who aspire to teach in higher education will read the book and see themselves in the stories. The hope is that they will be encouraged by seeing that they are not alone and that despite the challenges in the academy, they have much to offer. Second, we also hope that leaders in academic institutions will read this book and gain an understanding of what it is like to be a Hispanic faculty member and be moved to make changes in their institutions to better welcome and serve Hispanic faculty. We also hope that academic leaders will reach out and hire more Hispanic faculty for their institutions. If we desire Hispanic students to enroll in our institutions, hiring more Hispanic faculty must be prioritized. This would apply to other cultures and ethnicities as well: representation matters.
At the outset of this interview, Dr. Esqueda stated that the goal of this edited volume was to create an outlet for Hispanic faculty to share their narratives on their life and academic journeys so as to give insight and understanding about the Hispanic faculty experience. The desired result is for those who serve in Christian colleges and universities to gain a better understanding of the joys and challenges Hispanic faculty face and to move toward fostering a deeper sense of belonging within Christian colleges and universities. For Hispanic faculty to feel supported, however, efforts must go beyond individual cross-cultural interactions. The institutional transformation mentioned by Dr. Esqueda seeks to create a climate where faculty, staff, and students from diverse backgrounds are affirmed to bring their authentic selves so that human thriving will be part of the institutional culture. Readers can find inspiration from the narratives the authors share on a collegial level, but also be challenged to engage in further dialogue and reflection on how institutional transformation can occur on an ongoing basis. The Hispanic Faculty Experience: Opportunities for Growth and Retention in Christian Colleges and Universities is hence an important resource as we envision the future of Christian higher education.