Creating Ecosystems to Reimagine Latinx Student Success: Historicizing Latinx Cultural Centers in Higher Education
Inspired by Garcia’s (2020) call for postsecondary institutions to intentionally provide opportunities for students to develop “liberatory outcomes,” this study situates the six Latinx cultural centers in the University of California System, with the purpose of documenting their role in legitimizing liberatory student outcomes. Using ethnographic and indigenous research methodologies, I interrogate Latinx cultural centers’ purpose, role, and contribution to Latinx student success. Through interviews, I documented the insight and experiences of the Directors of each Latinx cultural center provide an understanding about the personal nature of their work, identifying the liberatory paradigms and practices they employ. To understand the range of contribution of Latinx cultural centers to the higher education enterprise, an ethnography of one Latinx cultural center-instructed course highlights the un/learning that takes place in the words of the co-instructors and students themselves, through a review of participant observations, field notes, interviews, and a focus group. This study asks the following research questions:• What is the role of Latinx Cultural Centers in legitimizing liberatory student outcomes? • What practices and paradigms do Latinx student affairs professionals exercise to support Latinx students? • What signals did participation in a Latinx cultural center-instructed course provide students with about their relationship to higher education? What did students un/learn?
The perspectives of Directors, instructors, and students provide latitude by which to assert that Latinx cultural centers are not nonacademic, informal spaces, often thought as supplementary, not complementary, to undergraduate education. This study adds depth to the literature on Latinx cultural centers in higher education by forefronting race, space, and transformation in higher education to: 1) position race-specific cultural centers as sites where education equity is enacted, 2) understand the epistemological orientation and approaches enacted by these spaces, 3) interrogate the pedagogical stances employed by student affairs professionals, and 4) identify the contribution of Center-instructed courses in relation to student learning and development. Given that Latinx students represents the highest increase in college enrollment, and overall demographic shift nationwide, their ability to successfully graduate and thrive beyond academic boundaries will be pivotal to the future of this nation.