One in four female students attending public schools in the United States is Latina. While recent statistics have shown the significant progress Latinas have made over the last decade in educational advancement, there still remains a degree-completion gap compared to their peers.
Amy Hinojosa, President and CEO of MANA, A National Latina Organization
, discusses the value of creating an empowering community for Latinas across campuses nationwide.
Ortiz: Hispanic women and girls represent one out of every five women in the United States but are underrepresented in elected office and corporate leadership roles. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Nathalia Ortiz. While Latinas are going to college in record numbers, they are significantly less likely to actually complete a degree compared to all other major groups. Joining me to discuss efforts to create a support system for Latinas on campus is Amy Hinojosa, President and CEO of MANA, A National Latina Organization. Amy, thank you for being with us today.
Hinojosa: Thank you for having me.
Ortiz: So, I wanted to focus on the new college presence or collegiate presence you have, because I know you just opened a chapter at Georgia Southern University in Savannah.
Ortiz: And you´re looking to grow that. You´ve been around for decades, but this is sort of like your newest project, correct?
Hinojosa: Absolutely. So, MANA has a chapter and affiliate network across the country of volunteer women who are older and I would say anywhere over college age and well into adulthood. What we wanted to do was create a network for young Latinas on campus to have that same community feeling that the women in our chapter network have.
Ortiz: So, I´m gonna play devil´s advocate for a second. And I´m a Latina, and I went to school. Born and raised here. Is it not counterproductive to perhaps have somewhere where you´re kind of isolating and having, like, a "bubble effect" of Latinas on a college campus rather than allowing them to perhaps integrate and, like -- like real-life stuff -- Because when you go out and get a job, that´s what you´re gonna find.
Hinojosa: Absolutely, and we´re in no way saying that they should isolate themselves on any kind of campus, but to find other like-minded and other women who look like them, to just have someone to go and say, "Is this the experience that you´re having? Because this is the experience that I´m having." Just having someone to bounce that off of who looks like you, who understands the situations that you´re going through maybe as a first-generation student, maybe as someone who´s never stepped on a college campus before, and to say, "You know what? There are others like me, and we can help each other through this."
Ortiz: Yeah, and perhaps you´re the first generation in your family to go to college or to university. Now, why do you think they´re attending but some of them are not completing their degrees?
Hinojosa: I think there are so many factors. Some of it has to do with whether or not they feel comfortable on a college campus, whether or not it is a welcoming environment for them. Are there opportunities for them to engage in other activities? But then at the same time, there are the outward pulls from family. There may be family obligations, and they may have to go back to work.
Ortiz: Yeah, that´s got to be really tough. How do you help support them and counter that?
Hinojosa: So, I think just helping students understand that there are a variety of options out there for them. Maybe it means scaling back to half-time but not stopping all together, to say, "You know what? There´s still a path for you to finish. It may not look the way you thought it would when you were a bright-eyed freshman. But let´s work together. Let´s get through this. Let´s see what our options are."
Ortiz: So, what specifically are you doing on these college campuses -- or this one college campus where you´ve started -- in order to support these women? Because you´re specifically focused on the female Hispanic student.
Hinojosa: Absolutely. So, as a national women´s organization, our focus is women, but we certainly don´t turn away men or young men who want to participate with the organization or on these college campuses. But it´s the idea of like-minded individuals from similar backgrounds being together on the college campus and to identify with one another. And I think that the idea is to provide them with an outlet to say, "Okay, we are Latinas on this college campus. What do we want to accomplish for ourselves and for others in our community?" So, many of our students in Georgia have started a leadership conference, and they combined with the African-American women´s student group and had a leadership conference there on campus. And it´s the idea of empowering women of color and other women on campus and to say, "Hey, we´re all in this together."
Ortiz: And I want to point out for those of you who don´t know Spanish, "MANA," which is the name of your organization, is actually short for "little sister" in Spanish. Hermana. MANA.
Ortiz: And so what you´re trying to create, from what I understand, is sort of like a big sister/little sister dynamic, right? You´re trying to empower them, bring them together. Is there any role-modeling going on here?
Hinojosa: There´s certainly role-modeling. So, MANA, overall, has a couple of different conceptual parts, and the first is the chapter for the adult women, but we also have a program called the Hermanitas, and it is the only youth-mentoring program in the United States created specifically for Latinas in middle and high school. And so we knew that there was a gap between that hermanita, that middle and high-school age, and then those adult women who are in their careers and starting their families in their local communities. And so we felt that this was a place on college campuses to reach Latinas and to provide them with leadership development, encourage them to do community service, and then, of course, pick up on that advocacy piece to see, where is the Latina voice missing in the public discourse?
Ortiz: Tell me about the financial literacy consulting that I know that you also do.
Hinojosa: Absolutely. So, we partner with the Women´s Institute for a Secure Retirement and have done that for the last 20 years to train local leaders in each of the communities that we serve to provide workshops on financial-literacy education. Anything from very basic -- how to open a bank account. So much of our population still is underbanked or unbanked. From everything to, then, how do you start saving? How do you look toward retirement? How do you look at saving for a car or a home? And so we want to make sure that trusted sources of information come from role models and leader that we train and can go out into the community and share that information.
Ortiz: Amy Hinojosa, thank you for being with us today.
Hinojosa: Thank you.
Ortiz: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Nathalia Ortiz.