As the college strives to find a diversity officer for its new diversity initiative, some hispanic students on campus find the lack of diversity to impact the campus in negative ways for both national and international students, but also find avenues where Concordia exceeds in incorporating other cultures onto campus.
According to College Scorecard, Concordia is 84 percent white, 2 percent Asian, 2 percent hispanic, 2 percent black, 1 percent American Indian, 1 percent of one or more races, 3 percent non-resident and 6 percent unknown.
Freshman Esmeralda Mancilla, Pelican Rapids, Minn. student with parents from Mexico and Guatemala, was surprised at the little diversity when she first moved to Concordia.
“It [lack of diversity] does bother me,” Mancilla said. “Going in, I thought there was more diversity because how they were so big on diversity. I got here, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable or anything, it’s just one of those things where you feel so much like the minority.”
Senior Rosa Argueta, previous resident Crookston, Minn. with parents from El Salvador, had a similar experience to Mancilla’s.
“I don’t consider this a bad thing, but realizing that you’re the only hispanic or non-white person in the classroom, and you’re like, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t realize this before,’” Argueta said. “I never realize it until I’m halfway through the class. I think that goes to show that it doesn’t matter.”
Freshman Sara Villalobos, Shakopee, Minn. native with Mexican roots, struggled to grasp the whiteness of campus when she moved in.
“My other impression was, it’s very white,” Villalobos said. “That was one of my biggest struggles was coming here and I didn’t realize before coming here just how white it was. I thought it was going to be a little easier to find a hispanic community.”
Villalobos said at the beginning of the academic year, the college hosted an event for the hispanic community on campus. Out of the 43 hispanic students on campus, only eight students showed for the event, leaving Villalobos feeling more isolated.
Villalobos took initiative and joined el Circulo Hispano, the Spanish club, and became one of the coordinators. Her experience with the club has improved her feelings.
“I’m very involved with the hispanic community, more involved than I was in high school,” Villalobos said. “It’s really nice and what makes it nice I think is that we’re so small here compared to other areas, like my high school, it feels like I’m finding family.”
These students have ideas on ways to improve the atmosphere on campus to help current students feel more welcomed and help them stay all four years. Mancilla believes having a Spanish class for native Spanish speakers would be helpful because she grew up in an environment where she spoke in the language, but did not write a lot. A Spanish class for native speakers would help bring the hispanic community closer, according to Mancilla.
Villalobos has a grander proposition for the college.
“I think we can strive even more to become diverse if we drop our tuition,” Villalobos said.
Villalobos acknowledges that lowering tuition may be a long shot, but she believes it’s necessary.
“If you look at it in a social-economic standpoint, a lot of hispanic-latino communities are not in the upper-class, and that’s the same thing with a lot of other minorities,” Villalobos said. “There is always the exception, but if they look at it generally, that is the case.”
Villalobos knows individuals whose college experiences has been affected tremendously due to the lack of finances.
“A lot of the reason why people can’t come to Concordia is because they cannot afford it,” Villalobos said. “I do know students, who are minorities, are transferring because of this and I do know that there have been students who are minorities, have considered transferring because of the situation of tuition.”
The fact that some students cannot afford tuition, raises concerns for Villalobos.
“That, for me, is really worrisome, especially for a college that is looking to improve diversity,” Villalobos said. “There needs to be representatives reaching out to these groups because if there’s a reach-out, or if there’s something that can happen that can benefit that community, or things that we can do to bring that community in, I think that’s a wonderful idea.”
To lower tuition, Villalobos believes the college should give up some luxuries to put that money towards lowering tuition. What luxuries the college should abrogate, Villalobos does not know, a decision she thinks the college should make for itself. The benefits would be worth it though in Villalobos’s eyes.
“In that economic principle, it’s what you give up to gain,” Villalobos said. “And if you give up a couple luxuries on campus equals more diversity, which ultimately in the end would equal more open-mindedness across the campus whether you’re black, white, latino, Asian, whatever. It’ll provoke a new sense of thinking and that not only goes for being ethnically diverse, but with being ethnically diverse becomes being more economically diverse amongst the students and seeing what the backgrounds are that students come from. If we are allowed to gain a new perspective, I don’t think our luxuries we’re giving up aren’t going to be as great as what we would gain.”
While Argueta agrees increasing diversity is important, she thinks it should be a natural process for the student, not pushed.
“I don’t think we should force it [bringing in more diversity],” Argueta said. “I think it should be the choice of the student, whether they want to come here or not. Once you force diversity, it becomes a little more like, ‘Oh you’re doing this because I’m hispanic, or you’re doing this for my culture.’”
While Concordia has areas it can improve on with diversity, the college is excelling in other areas. Mancilla has experienced an atmosphere where people are motivated to learn about people different from themselves.
“From what I’ve seen, everyone is super open-minded,” Mancilla said. “I’ve seen everyone’s understanding, everyone’s willing to compromise, and at least from the people I’ve talked to, they think it’s really cool to learn about the different cultures.”
Before Concordia, Argueta felt inhibited from speaking Spanish due to the reactions of community members.
“Sometimes I’ve gotten dirty looks when speaking Spanish or people felt uneasy and you can feel that in the air,” Argueta said. “It was like that throughout most of my elementary and my high school was that I felt super uncomfortable speaking in Spanish.”
That changed when Argueta arrived at Concordia.
“Once I got to Concordia and I took my first Spanish class, I was like, ‘Heck yeah. I love this,’” Argueta said. “I love teaching it and I love sharing that with people.”
Argueta also appreciates the different forms Concordia utilizes to engage students in other cultures.
“I really appreciate the fact that they’re trying to bring in different people, whether that is to speak, the summer book reads, symposium and bringing in experts from the community to talk about their culture is the best thing we could possibly do,” Argueta said.
This past fall, Villalobos experienced what it would feel like if Concordia had a more diverse student population. In her inquiry class, Women and Gender Roles in Latin America, her class was made mostly of international students, which increased the students’ awareness to other cultures, according to Villalobos.
“When we came into the classroom the first day, what she [Fanny Roncal Ramirez, inquiry professor] told us was that we were the ideal class of Concordia because we were so different from each other,” Villalobos said. “In our class, we had mostly minorities and that’s something that doesn’t ever happen [on campus]. It’s eye-opening.”
To continue the diversity narrative and help make a difference, Villalobos will be an RA next year.
“I want to avoid students feeling that they’re away from everything they come from,” Villalobos said. “I think by being an RA who happens to be a minority and a woman, I think that’s going to allow them to see that it’s possible and we can use a little more of that, having minority head figures.”