By Jay Roberson
An evening with Latinx Faculty and Staff was held at Daly’s Dining Hall in the Mercer room on Sept. 29 for students and faculty who wished to hear the unique perspectives of staff who identify as Latinx.
Seven Rider staff members sat at a round table in front of the room and awaited to answer questions from the moderator and the audience. As each faculty member answered different questions, they made it clear that they were a resource for all Latinx students at Rider University.
Finding community and support
English Professor Vincent Toro, one of the Latinx staff members who participated in the Q&A session, spoke with The Rider News on the importance of events like this on campus.
“It’s important that Latinx students understand that there are resources on campus for them. So to me, faculty and administrators, knowing that they have access to not only those faculties, but some of the programs and clubs, I think that that’s crucial for the survival of a lot of Latinx students,” Toro said.
Throughout the event, the staff emphasized the fact that they were once Latinx students going through college too; they know that students are handling a great deal of pressure and their ethnicity may be one of those pressures. It is not easy for all students at Rider to transition into a predominately white institution as a person of color.
When asked about the event, Angélica Benitez, who is director of TRIO Programs, spoke about the importance of visibility on Rider’s campus as more diverse students enroll.
“Because Rider is now becoming or has become a lot more diverse in terms of the population, it is important that the populations see themselves in the administration and in the faculty, you know, for role modeling,” said Benitez.
Benitez also talked about her experience as a Rider student when there were even less people of color on campus and the isolation she experienced because of this. She highlighted the importance of Latinx staff members talking about their experiences when they were a student and showing Latinx students that there is a community at Rider for them.
“I hoped to instill my experiences into the other students that may have identified as first gen or come from an under-resourced environment, things of that nature. If my message could speak to someone in the room, I hope that it would strengthen their experience at Rider,” Benitez stated.
The organizer of the event, Language, Literature and Culture professor Cynthia Martinez talked about the importance of Latinx students getting to know who they can confide in on campus.
“This kind of idea came from things we were hearing from students, things that they wanted to see, more opportunities they wanted to see. So I heard from a lot of students, we don’t even know who the Latinx faculty and staff are, we don’t even know where y’all are on campus,” Martinez said.
Underrepresentation in staff members
Rider has been making steady improvements in diversity and inclusion, but some of the staff members stated that they need to do better.
“I’ve seen support from colleagues, from students. That’s really refreshing and I really appreciate that. I will say that in terms of faculty and staff, considering that the student population of the school, country and state is well over 20% of Latinx, that we still do need to see not only Latinx, we need to see more Black and Brown faculty on campus that will add to the sense of belonging,” Toro said. Over 20% of Rider’s student population is Latinx, but only 5% of staff and faculty members are Latinx according to Christina Peterson, assistant provost for institutional research.
It is important that students are able to see themselves in both staff and administration. “I would love to see more of us here. More of us coming together, more of doing stuff like this for students. And in the meantime, you know, I think it’s a big job that falls on the shoulders of not very many of us,” Martinez stated.
An event like An Evening with Latinx Faculty and Staff is vital to Rider because of the low number of Latinx staff to connect with students. Martinez organized this event to ensure that every Rider student feels seen. “If any student saw one of us for the first time, or maybe saw themselves in one of our stories or anything like that. That’s what I wanted out of this event.”