In an effort to reach a rapidly-growing demographic in the U.S., the role of Northwest’s diversity and inclusion coordinator — with support through the Hispanic Development Fund — has pivoted to include recruiting Hispanic and Latino students in Missouri metropolitan areas.
Coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion Adam Gonzales is the son of immigrants and Spanish is his first language. Since last fall, he has attended college fairs in St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri, to recruit Spanish-speaking and Latino high school students to Northwest.
According to a 2018 Pew Research study, the number of Latinos under 35 increased 20% in 10 years, making it one of the fastest-growing youth populations in the country and the U.S.’s youngest major ethnic group. Latinos make up 25% of K-12 students in the U.S.
Because many Hispanic and Latino students are first-generation Americans and first-generation college students, Gonzales works directly with the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund, which provides assistance to students in filling out college applications, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and scholarship applications.
“With many of these fairs, we’re dealing with first and second generation students whose families, some of them still don’t have a great grasp of the English language, some of the students are undocumented,” Gonzales said. “I’m the only bilingual recruiter we have on campus. … Culturally speaking, I’ve kind of been in that place that the students are in.”
Through the transition to the Provost’s Office, Gonzales said Diversity and Inclusion has taken on an even greater focus in recruitment and retention of underrepresented students. In making that change, he said it’s not just about increasing study hours, staff, trainings, scholarships and programming.
“It starts with simply having people who are capable of providing genuine support and a cultural understanding for those students who come from backgrounds that may not be the same as ours,” Gonzales said.
At the Board of Regents meeting Oct. 23, a two-year memorandum was unanimously passed to match scholarships through the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Development Fund up to $5,000 per student for up to 10 students per year.
According to the memorandum brief, Northwest has provided 18 matching scholarships totaling $14,625 over the last five years.
Northwest has been part of the Hispanic Development Fund Scholarship Program for more than 15 years, and Vice President of External Relations Lonelle Rathje introduced the two-year memorandum to extend that partnership.
In addition to the memorandum passing unanimously, Board Member John Moore said he would like to see the University put more resources into the partnership and pay more attention to Latino and Hispanic students populations. He said he wants the Board to match scholarships by 150% or 200%, and either through University funds or donors contribute $5,000 to $15,000 more to students through the fund.
“I would like to see us establish ourselves as sort of the premier partner of this group,” Moore said. “I think it would be an excellent way for us to stand out and to perhaps really send a message to the Hispanic community in the Kansas City area about how serious we are about serving their community.”
Gonzales said he feels his outreach is limited by lack of staff. Since he is the only Spanish-speaking employee recruiting for Northwest, maintaining relationships with communities in St. Louis and Kansas City takes him away from his role with current students.
“I think our efforts could be increased with an increase in focus on recruiting Hispanic and Latinx staff and faculty,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales said having representation of Hispanic and Latino communities on campus in faculty and staff would help students feel more comfortable and help them succeed, but it would also take the burden off him alone to represent the Latino community among employees.
“My greatest fear is I do too good of a job recruiting, and then we get students who say, ‘Where are all the Latinos?’ once they get here,” Gonzales said. “I’m happy to be the person they can go to for that resource and connection, but I’m only one person.”
Gonzales said the University is taking steps toward increasing and diversifying its recruitment, but there is still room to grow in increasing and diversifying recruitment staff.