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Developing Latina/o Leaders: Examining leadership and civic outcomes of Latina/o college students at four-year colleges and universities


Researchers, institutional leaders, government policy makers, and leading foundations note the significant role an educated Latina/o population plays in the nation, future workforce, and democracy. This longitudinal study examines the experiences in U.S. colleges and universities that prepare Latina/o students for participation in American democracy and roles in communities and across industries. This study controls background characteristics and predispositions to determine the effect of Latina/o college experiences on civic awareness, commitment of becoming a community leader, and leadership development. Guided by Astin’s Involvement Theory and Nora, Barlow and Crisp’s Student/Institution Engagement Model, this study employed logistic and multivariate regression analyses on a national sample of 2,164 Latina/o college students who were first-time, full-time freshmen at four-year colleges and universities. The 2004 CIRP Freshmen and 2008 College Senior Surveys were merged with IPEDS institutional data for the study.

Findings indicate that college cross racial interactions, attending racial/cultural awareness workshops, and participating in political demonstrations predict Latina/o participation in ethnic/racial student organizations, all of which also predict increases in the personal goal of becoming a community leader. Other predictors of community leadership values are associated with negative cross racial interactions, leadership ability, and performing volunteer work. Civic awareness is fostered by attending a Hispanic Serving Institution, positive cross racial interactions, attending cultural/racial awareness workshops, social agency, and confidence in leadership ability. Latina/os’ leadership development (self-ratings change) is associated with voting in student elections, positive cross racial interactions, attending cultural/racial awareness workshops, social agency, and performing volunteer work. In terms of differences among Latina/os, non-native English speakers are more likely to join racial/ethnic organizations, show high civic awareness, and commitment to becoming a community leader. The lower engagement of native English speakers is an area of concern since they have potential for civic leadership. In another area of concern, Latinas are less likely than males to show increases in their leadership ability self-ratings in college. This suggests challenges remain in terms of increasing Latina leadership. The paradox is Latinas are involved in increasing numbers and capacities in student organizations and leadership roles, yet this does not translate to increase Latina leadership.

The study extends previous findings indicating diversity-oriented college activities and experiences have a significant and positive effect on student social and civic outcomes. Implications for research, policy and practice are discussed.

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