Latinx/a/o Call to Action

I am often told that as a Latinx/a/o professional with a doctorate that I am a unicorn in this world. I have my terminal degree, I work in a high ranking position in the profession, I have a great salary, and I am able to influence positive change in my community. I am often humbled by this comment and yet I don’t feel like I am unique. This passive and humbled mindset leads many Latinx/a/o to not fully understand how unique they truly are and better yet, to accept the great responsibility to continue to bring others up so that more unicorns can exist. Latinx/a/o professionals are increasingly growing in higher education and while there are many respected professionals throughout the country making their gente proud and contributing to the solutions of the world, one could argue Latinx/a/o contributions to the world of scholarship, student success initiatives and leadership is still rather unknown.

The struggle is real in the Latinx/a/o community. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES; 2016a), Latinx/a/o students account for one in six students. While enrollment may be drastically increasing, outcomes such as graduation are still lagging for Latinx/a/o students as only 15% are graduating with a bachelor's degree compared to 22% of Blacks and 41% of Whites (Pew, 2016). In graduate degree attainment, the number of Latinx/a/os with their doctorates accounted for 7.2% of all doctorates granted in 2015 compared to 8.4% for Blacks and 69.3% for Whites (NCES, 2016b). While the percentage is low, it has been steadily growing from 6% in 2010 to 7.2% in 2015 (NCES, 2016b). As Latinx/a/o enrollment continue to grow in higher education, outcomes such as degree attainment are slowly becoming more real and the need for Latinx/a/o educated people in academia to contribute to scholarship is desperately needed. 

There are plenty of opportunities to make a positive impact for future professionals and student affairs work. A strong need exists in the Latinx/a/o community to see more senior-level professionals leading institutions. Currently only 4% of higher education institutions have Latinx/a/o presidents, down from 5% ten years ago (Stripling, 2017; Watson, 2017). Latinx/a/o female presidents have decreased as well, from 5.6% in 2011 to 2.9% in 2016 (Stripling, 2017). The need for Latinx/a/os to lead is becoming increasingly alarming given that Latinx/a/o leadership is dwindling while enrollment continues to climb. Therefore Latinx/a/os need a positive boost in self-efficacy, however rooted it may be from a cultural context to assume leadership positions. “For the great majority of our boys and girls, the kind and amount of education they may hope to attain depends, not on their own abilities, but on the family or community into which they happened to be born, or, worse still, on the color of their skin or the religion of their parents” (President’s Commission on Higher Education, 1947, p. 27). 

The fact remains that our society and research on underrepresented groups states the high-level of educational attainment is not something Latinx/a/os expect and potentially aren’t aware of how to navigate. Many Latinx/a/o students do not have the cultural capital to understand their value in academia and often see themselves as “lacking,” according to Bourdieu (1977). However, Latinx/a/o theory literature shows that Latinx/a/o students may find support through community cultural wealth, which is described as an “aspect of critical race theory that shifts the research lense away from a deficit view of Communities of Color as places full of cultural poverty disadvantages, and instead focuses on and learns from the array of cultural knowledge, skills, abilities and contacts possessed by socially marginalized groups that often go unrecognized and unacknowledged” (Yosso, 2005, p. 69). 

Scholars argue that Latinx/a/o students might not be lacking but, rather, are rich in aspirational, navigational, social, linguistic, familial, and resistant capital (Yosso, 2005). Even as professionals, we might still operate in the previous deficit model. I was told by my professors that I was not a strong writer, which then created a fear of writing as a professional. Consequently, I have never contributed to the important literature impacting students in my profession. If I would have taken a cultural wealth perspective rather than thinking about my deficits due to lack of resources, I could have leveraged the various forms of help to publish research. 

There is a present need for Latinx/a/o professionals to lead and contribute on a large scale. Hermann (2016) noted, “Impostor syndrome is the feeling that you don’t belong—in graduate school or in your first academic or alt-ac job—and it’s more common that you might think. It makes people believe that they aren’t good enough, smart enough, or deserving enough.” In addition, in a 2017 blog, Tania Velazquez, director for career services at Suffolk County Community College, provided context on how people do not feel they are able to contribute. I have often heard colleagues refer to themselves as being unsure of their poder, their power to contribute, influence, and make positive change in higher education. I believe we are trained to be humble to a point that we don’t propel the action that we really need to serve our community. Watching the musical Hamilton, I was reminded of the strong statement “rise up!” We as Latinx/a/o people in higher education must step up and say, “Yes, we are fabulous, and you can be too!” It is beyond time for us to gently say gracias but, better yet, to accept how wonderfully unique we are in academia. 

This is a call to action, our time to rise up. The time has come to provide leadership, contribute to scholarship, and mentor the next generation. NASPA provides opportunities in all these areas. A NASPA Research and Policy brief offers five things student affairs professionals can do to support Latinx/a/o students in community colleges:

  • Provide educational preparation to and affirm competencies of student affairs professionals.
  • Accept responsibility at the institutional level.
  • Actively recruit and retain qualified student affairs professionals.
  • Scale up programs and services.
  • Build in effectiveness and assessment. (Hernández, Hernández, & de la Teja, 2017)

Another great resource for building Latinx/a/o professional pathways is Latinx/a/os in Higher Education: Exploring Identity, Pathways and Success. The authors provide real stories about professional journeys, the value of mentorships, opportunities with Latinx/a/o students and professionals in community colleges, and much more.

Now is the time to get involved! Find a mentee through the NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program, publish your research through the various NASPA publications, present your ideas at regional and national conferences, teach others through pre-conference institutes, and challenge ideas by serving on one of the many knowledge communities. The opportunities are endless and so are the resources! Many Latinx/a/o professionals are doing this already, but we don’t do the best job of showcasing our contributions. So tell me, what are you doing to rise up?

Claudia Mercado

Assistant Provost

Harper College


Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J. (1977). Reproduction in education, society and culture. London, United Kingdom: Sage.

Goldrick-Rab, S. (2016). Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Hernández, I., Hernández, S., & de la Teja, M. (2017). Five things student affairs professionals can do to support Latinx/a/o students in community colleges. Retrieved from the NASPA website:

Herrmann, R. (2016). Imposter Syndrome is definitely a thing. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Krogstand, J. (2016) 5 facts about Latinos and education. Retrieved from Pew Research Center website:

National Center for Education Statistics. (2016a). Digest of education statistics: 2016. Retrieved from

National Center for Education Statistics. (2016b). Doctor’s degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by race/ethnicity and sex of students: Selected years, 1976-77 through 2014-2015. Retrieved from

President’s Commission on Higher Education. (1947). Higher education for democracy. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Stripling, J. (2017). Behind a stagnant portrait of college leaders, an opening for change. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Watson, J. (2017). Challenges remain for Latino college presidents. Retrieved from

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race and Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69-91.