Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Professor’s Advice to Latino Freshmen: ‘Believe You Belong’

Latino professors from universities across the country give incoming college freshmen advice in a recent post on NBC News Latino, sharing both practical reminders — like “use the class syllabus” and “get to know your teachers” — and heartfelt sentiments about what it means to be Latino on a college campus. 

Stephen Nuño, an associate professor at Northern Arizona University and contributing writer for NBC News Latino, introduces the collection of counsel from his colleagues with these thoughts:

Latino students will surely face the same problems all students face; such as time management, social pressure, and the ubiquitous presence of the byzantine bureaucracies you will need to master. But for Latino students, the barriers are many, and the pitfalls can be found everywhere. Even though more Latinos are enrolling into college in greater numbers than ever before, the ‘pipeline’ is still fraught with unique problems for many Hispanic students.

Of all the words of wisdom Nuño collected, this piece from Ali Valenzuela, an assistant professor at Princeton University, is my favorite (probably because I used to be a college admissions counselor). Valenzuela reminds students: “Believe you belong in your college.”

Depending on your school, you might be one of the few—or only—Latinos in the classroom, and you might wonder if the admissions officers made a mistake. Never believe this! They spend a lot of time reviewing applications individually and then as a group with all of the admissions officers together. They don’t make admission decisions without careful consideration, and they saw something in you that they believed made you a good fit for the school. Many students feel this way, including non-Latino students, but if you keep at it you will find your place.

Professor Adrian Pantoja of Pitzer College tells freshman to forget the stereotypes — to carve their own path. Similarly, Pacific Lutheran University Associate Professor Maria Chávez tells students, “You belong….Do not internalize (others’) misplaced resentment or racist or sexist views and actions. Ever.”

Others advise students to be proud of where they came from and use their Latino background to teach others about the culture. Taking ethnic studies courses, joining Latino student groups and seeking mentors were also among the suggestions.