In the 1970s, the University of Illinois at Chicago was a site for change for the Latino community, on and off campus. Latino students and faculty demanded a need for educational programs; the need to establish initiatives to promote college attendance, recognize academic success and encourage leadership by launching campaigns, planning sit-ins and demonstrations, and ultimately taking over the administrative building on campus. The time for change was nigh and students of color lead the pack.
The hard work and pressure paid off in 1975 when the Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services program was established. Otherwise known as LARES, the program is celebrating 35 years of service to the Latino community through advocacy, recruitment and retention.
LARES services approximately 2,600 students every year, more than half of the Latino population that attends UIC, said Hugo Teruel, interim director of the program.
“The students aren’t obligated to come in for services,” he explained over a phone conversation. “They come in through their own will.” The program, equipped with 11 staff members, not only services the students who are already enrolled at UIC, but also reaches out to heavily populated Latino communities and suburbs that need encouragement, advice and a guided path to higher education.
“LARES was born out of advocacy for the Latino student population and the community,” said Teruel. “The program plays two roles. It is part of the university; an institutional unit, but it also ties to the community. I think it’s beneficial to maintain that link to the community.”
Teruel, who has been with LARES for 21 years, claims that having more Latino professors and faculty members will increase their student retention and graduation rate because of the role models in the classroom. With that said, LARES maintains a pipeline for the potential to increase Latino faculty members at the university. Through committee membership to groups such as the Illinois Board of Higher Education and being a part of the Diverse Faculty Initiative, LARES promotes the opportunity to diversify the UIC campus.
“As soon as students come in their freshman year, we are promoting graduate school,” said Teruel. LARES offers the opportunity for students to immerse themselves in the Latino culture of the school, allowing opportunities for research and possibly a position to teach and develop a career.
However, there have been challenges in keeping programs like LARES alive. Teruel said that success for Latinos across the United States has been a cha-cha; one step forward, one step back. For example, while President Barack Obama has agreed to take a step forward for undocumented students, multi-cultural programs in Arizona are being shut down. This also includes the economic crisis that has caused many programs to be shut down, downsized or merged.
“Thankfully, UIC has been very supportive of the LARES program,” said Teruel. “But there are still inequities in our society.”
Although Teruel doesn’t know when education will be on a level playing field, he said that’s something that LARES is always working toward.
“The program needs to grow,” he said. “It has needed to grow in the last few years.”
This post is also available in: Spanish
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