Importance of Diversity: One Latina’s Journey Towards Representation

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By: Dafne Valdez (Loyola Junior)

The lack of representation of BIPOC in United States academia has gone under closer scrutiny over the past several years. The Latine community in particular makes up about 5% of faculty in higher education. While college admissions of Latine people are going up, the educators in these institutions are not reflecting the increasing diversity of the students.

Professor Adrinana Diaz Lewis is a Spanish professor at Loyola University Chicago. Prior to teaching at Loyola, she taught Spanish at Cristo Rey Jesuit High school in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. It was at this high school that I had the pleasure of being in her classroom for a semester. Originally, Professor Diaz is from Bogota Colombia, and has been living in Chicago since 2007. 

Destined to teach, Professor Diaz started her career straight out of high school at a daycare. She obtained her bachelor’s in education, while in Bogota, she concentrated in languages. Studying English led her to come to the United States and continue her career as a TA at Loyola. She returned to the institution after four years of teaching high school.

I sat down to talk with her about her experience as a Latina in higher education and her outlook on the Latine community in higher education.

RER: What was it that made you want to get into education?

Diaz: I have always been a teacher. I think it gives me a purpose, I am passionate to be in the classroom. I think the impact you make in a classroom is super valuable. 

RER: Have you faced any conflicts as a Latina woman in higher education? Because as beautiful as it is, it also comes with its challenges.

Diaz: I think this is an important question. I have not. I’m new, but I think I have been lucky enough to be in a department where inclusion is super important. I mean, we are a department of modern languages. So can you imagine? We have people from everywhere in the world. The diversity is there. Even in our Spanish department, there is diversity of Spanish. So, fortunately I have not. I think I have been lucky enough to be welcomed into a department that appreciates that I am someone that is not only Latina, but a woman and an immigrant.

RER: It makes me so happy to hear. In what ways have you implemented parts of that identity that you just talked about into your teaching and the way you carry yourself here at Loyola?

Diaz: I think it’s important that students see their teacher as someone they can approach. All philosophies are welcome, no judgment, I think we all come from different backgrounds. Especially at a university like Loyola, in a city like Chicago I think we have an impressive diversity. That is something that is really important to bring into the classroom and conversations as well.

RER: I would like to get your thoughts on how you think we can implement more opportunities for Latine people to get into higher education? Because the amount of Latine people teaching in higher education is still really low.

Diaz: You are making me think about the class I am teaching right now. We have looked at the statistics and we are like “What is happening?” because the opportunities are there, but let’s look at the statistics. We have come up with great ideas. Like, it’s important to have a support system in the university that showcases people and experiences. I think that is what matters the most. 

I think it is really important to help this first generation of students that are getting to know the system. I identified with my students when we had this conversation. It was little by little where I was learning to navigate a system where there are opportunities, because we do have opportunities, but it is hard to navigate it.

RER: It is very difficult to navigate. When you really think about it, students that don’t have someone to walk them through these systems can feel lost. 

Diaz: Absolutely, I think those are one of the things that the more we talk about it, the better we get. I don’t want to criticize it so much because I have been lucky to have the opportunities but it is hard to navigate. It doesn’t happen only in our Latino minority communities, it also happens in other minorities. You know I was reading Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming,” and she mentioned just that: “It was hard to navigate and find a support system, but here I am.” It is important to also focus on those success stories.

RER: What are your future plans and aspirations?

Diaz: I don’t mean to sound cliché, but I hope that I can become a better teacher every semester. I hope I can become a better support for my students, and be reliable so they say, “Okay, I can learn from her experience. Maybe this is someone who has a story too and there is a human being behind, and it’s someone I can relate to.” I think that’s really important. At the end of the day, as teachers, it’s not an easy job but it is very important and important to be there for our students.

For more stories and information on Latine people in education go to:

https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/nation/2020/01/06/more-hispanic-students-than-ever-go-college-but-cost-high/2520646001/

https://www.latinousa.org/2018/02/20/latinos-leaving-teaching-workforce-higher-rates-groups-study-shows/

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