Profesoras in the Promised Land: Reflections on MLK Day


Depending on your experiences with higher education, you may be surprised to know that this May I will graduate from Penn State with my Bachelors of Arts in English without ever having a single Latino professor.

A part of this is due to my field and location. Latinos haven’t traditionally been drawn to English degrees. And, according to a U.S. Department of Education graphic included in Michelle Camancho Liu’s 2011 article Trends in Latino College Access and Success, 4.4% of Pennsylvania’s post-secondary students were Latino in 2009.

Compared with the 82.6% growth in Pennsylvania’s Latino population between 2000 and 2010, 4.4% is minuscule.

Another part of this is simply a strange, sad trend that needs to be eradicated. “Latino high school graduation rates have been improving,” the study explains, but college graduation rates are not; considerable achievement gaps remain compared to their white peers”.

Unfortunately, last Tuesday at Penn State’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Banquet, this frustrating and sad statistic of low Latino educational achievement was represented.

My program and button, courtesy of my own Instagram page.

My program and badge, courtesy: my Instagram page @DulceFlecha

That night, I searched for other Latinas maybe because I wanted some confirmation that I belonged there and was not simply an “exception” among a sea of predominantly white students.

I found one Hispanic student: my great friend and fellow undergraduate Jen.

One face in a crowd of dozens.

Dr. King is lauded for many things. His words and actions have inspired people and institutions to level the playing field by including a broader swath of American society–for example, people of color and women.

Perhaps his greatest gift is his ability to connect people, even posthumously, from all walks of life. Because of Dr. King, we strive for the resonating universal value of equality.

Yet as I sat, perfectly straight, listening to Penn State gospel choir Essence of Joy perform Lift Every Voice and Sing, I realized I had not seen Dr. King’s Promised Land of equality at Penn State.

Unfortunately, Penn State isn’t the exception. At colleges across the country, the education achievement gap remains.

This graph illustrates discrepancies in education levels for Indiana Latinos.Source: IRBC, with American Community Survey data

This graph illustrates discrepancies in education levels for Indiana Latinos.
Source: IRBC, with American Community Survey data

Why is the higher education that empowered Dr. King still eluding minority populations?

Why couldn’t I, desperately searching for something to make me feel like I belonged, find more Latina faces among the highly-educated faculty of Penn State, a highly ranked research university?

Battling for civil rights should not just be a chapter in American history, revered but buried in the past.

It should be an American tradition, rooted in a messy past that lives and breathes in our equally chaotic present.

If Dr. King had made it to his 80th birthday he would have watched the Inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Despite being underrepresented in education, by the time I reach that age, I hope we climb the mountain of educational achievement and see more Latinas walking the hallways of our great universities–as undergraduate and graduate students, administrators, and profesoras.

Why? Because education is the most direct path to success.

The Wise Latina Club's Dulce-Marie Flecha

The Wise Latina Club’s Dulce-Marie Flecha is a rising senior at Penn State. When she is not writing her honors thesis, she is trying to learn a fourth language, feeding her fashion obsession by Googling her favorite designers’, or begging the Yankees to hit with runners in scoring position. Click here to read more about and connect with Dulce-Marie.

How do you define the “Promised Land” and what steps do we need to take to get there?

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