Drawing Attention to the Work of Faculty Who Teach Latina/o Students

Erin Doran
Senior Student Development Specialist 
College of Education and Human Development
University of Texas at San Antonio

As the scholarly attention given to Latina/o students and HSIs continues to grow, researchers and practitioners should investigate further the role faculty members play in students’ success in college and how their practice can inform others who also contribute to the Latina/o education agenda. Given that nearly half of Latina/o students in postsecondary education are enrolled in community colleges, these faculty are critical institutional agents who are often some of the first people on campus students encounter. Anne-Marie Núñez points out that faculty in HSIs often use student-centered approaches in their teaching.

Over the last year, I collected data at a community college in South Texas with a 70% Latina/o student body. I focused on a policy change in Texas requiring the integration of reading and writing at the developmental level and explored how faculty and their teaching practices were impacted by this new format. I deliberately chose this campus because of its student body and its historical commitment to Latina/o students. The faculty participants understood the history of academic inequity in the community around the college’s campus and spoke to the needs of their students, like strengthening students’ academic writing skills in order to set them up for ongoing success in college. They saw themselves in their students—most of the faculty participants are Latinas/os, attended community colleges, and graduated from Hispanic Serving universities. As professional educators, they are deeply committed to the various needs of their students and in contributing to the success of their students in validating and culturally responsive ways.

The practice to raising Latina/o students up by honoring their identities in order to prepare them for college-level work is one that can be scaled among the collaborative efforts among various groups of invested stakeholders, both inside and outside of institutions. One particularly powerful example of culturally responsive teaching, combined with mainstream curricula, is through a developmental reading and writing course. As part of a special initiative to incorporate problem-based learning into classes, a faculty member at this South Texas community college used the topic “The War on Gang Violence.” Students engaged with different types of texts, including poetry, short stories, and an article in their class textbook on graffiti art. Second, their writing assignments asked of students to use supporting evidence from the texts they used, and the assignments incorporated different types of writing (expository, persuasive) and different modes of communication (textual, visual). He spoke about his explicit teaching of discourses like students’ use of their home languages blended with Standard English conventions. This is notable because the student learning outcomes for the integrated course, developed by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, put an emphasis on the uses and conventions of Standard English. In effect, this faculty member reorganized the curriculum, even if only temporarily, so that students could recognize their home language as an asset in order to enable them to lay the foundation for becoming successful academic writers.

This instructor’s creativity and attention is one that could be applied to various disciplines and programs on a college campus. Faculty members at community colleges nationwide are doing similarly innovative and culturally relevant teaching in their classrooms that does not get widely celebrated or discussed in the research. As a community of researchers, administrators, and practitioners interested in the success of Latina/o students in higher education, we need to tap into the expertise faculty develop by engaging with these students in their classrooms every semester. Their knowledge and experience in working with our students, both in and out of HSIs will help our community improve our practices and approaches to students in order to help students at all their academic transition periods—from high school to college, 2-year to 4-year institution, and from undergraduate degree to graduate school.

Dr. Erin Doran is a recent graduate of the Educational Leadership program at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her research focuses on developmental education policy and practice, and its implications for reading and writing and Latina/o students.