A Q&A with Dr. Victor Sáenz, Co-Editor of ‘Ensuring the Success of Latino Males in Higher Education’

image of author While more Latinos are heading to college than ever before, Latino males lag behind other groups—even behind Latinas—in obtaining a four-year degree. To shed some light on this issue, a group of scholars from across the country published their research in a new book titled Ensuring the Success of Latino Males in Higher Education (Stylus Publishing, Jan. 2016).

We sat down with Dr. Victor Sáenz, co-editor of the book and associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration, to learn more about the many complex factors that keep Latino males from succeeding in post-secondary education – and why bridging this persistent achievement gap is a national imperative.

What is causing Latino males to underestimate the value of a college degree?

First let me offer some data. While the number of Latinos attending college and attaining degrees has increased steadily in recent years, the proportional representation of Latino males enrolled in higher education continues to lag behind their female peers. In 2012, Latino males had the lowest high school graduation rates across all male ethnic groups, and more than 60 percent of all associate’s or bachelor’s degrees earned by Hispanics were earned by female students. These trends suggest that, compared to their peers, Latino males continue to face challenges in achieving critical higher education milestones.
That said, I wouldn’t necessarily conclude that Latino males are “underestimating” the value of a degree. Many simply find other means to make a living that may not include a higher education credential, perhaps because they feel a more immediate urgency to be a breadwinner or provider for their family.

Why is it an economic imperative to close this achievement gap?

One way to answer this is by considering the relationship between demographic trends and economic health. Because the Latina/o community is so young and is growing so rapidly in states like Texas and California, there’s a demographic reality that is winding its way through our schooling systems. That said, if half of the fastest-growing racial/ethnic group in the country is stubbornly lagging behind everyone else on key educational metrics, this persistent gap could have dire consequences on the long-term viability of our economy and our communities. Latino males in the workforce are concentrated in low-skilled, low-wage jobs, and they have more instability in their employment status. This translates into stunted economic opportunities for Latino males. When coupled with demographic trends this portends a dire economic outlook.

The book examines the factors that inhibit academic success for Latino males. Could you highlight a common barrier that keeps them from completing a post-secondary education?

One common barrier for Latino males that may keep them from completing a college degree is the financial pressures they may be facing to help contribute to their families. Because many are from working-class backgrounds, the immediate urge to join the labor force may outweigh the long-term gains that can flow from a higher education credential.

Research in the book covers an array of factors that promote Latino success in higher education. Could you give an example of one of those factors?

There are several factors we can spotlight. Increasing the achievement of Latino male students requires policy and programmatic interventions that attend to the needs of students both long before they arrive on campus and also immediately after they arrive. We should consider how support is extended through social networks (e.g., college access programs, financial aid). We should also carefully design “on-ramp” experiences for Latino male college students that immediately gets them engaged and connected on our college campuses. Finally, we should re-design our existing orientation and intervention programs with “men in mind”, mindful of the myriad challenges we may face to get Latino males engaged on our campuses.

You direct Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success), a student mentoring program in UT Austin’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. How can programs such as this help increase Latino males’ college graduation rates?

Our Project MALES Student Mentoring Program is focused on the goal of enhancing Latino male academic success through near-peer mentoring, and to inspire others to take action and respond to the growing national imperative for Latino males in education.
The Project MALES Student Mentoring Program connects Latino male undergraduate students from UT Austin (and allies) with males of color in local area middle schools and high schools. We require all of our undergraduate student mentors to enroll in a service-learning course called Instructing Males through Peer Advising College Tracks (IMPACT). Once out in the field, our undergraduate mentors work on improving the college-going culture for young men of color while also providing a safe space for these students to discuss questions related to going to college. They discuss a variety of topics ranging from college preparation to financial literacy to the “soft” skills necessary to succeed in college and beyond.

Our Project MALES Student Mentoring Program can serve as a model for other institutions because we are leveraging the intellectual capital for the benefit of our local community while also providing a dynamic experiential learning experience for our undergraduate mentors.

Why is it important to raise national awareness about the educational crisis facing young Latino males?

This is an important time to raise awareness about the educational challenges facing Latino males because many national, state and local conversations are expanding the definition of males of color to include Latino males and other historically marginalized groups of male students. The shifting demographic reality represented by the growth of the Latina/o community also gives our focus on Latino males a singular urgency.

President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative has brought the educational challenges faced by male students of color to the forefront of education policy discussions. Launched in February 2014, the MBK initiative seeks to improve the educational and life outcomes for boys and young men of color. MBK has brought together public and private organizations, school districts, city leaders, community activists, scholars, students and families, and philanthropic organizations that have pledged a long-term commitment. All of these stakeholder groups represent key target audiences for our book.

Anything else you would like to add?

This book is an ambitious attempt to spark greater awareness and dialogue about Latino males, a fast-growing and increasingly important segment of our national population. It synthesizes the perspectives of new and emerging voices, including graduate students, academics, administrative professionals and higher education leaders. The contributing authors paint a complex portrait of the many factors that contribute to the educational experiences of Latino males in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education. This book represents a commitment to better understand the Latino male educational experience, and its contributors’ hope to parallel the broader and vibrant research agenda on male students of color in higher education. Finally, given the growing state and national imperative to “move the needle” on Latino male student success, this book is a call to action for researchers, educational practitioners, community activists and higher education leaders.

Q&A with Paige Schilt, Author of Queer Rock Love: A Family Memoir

book coverWhen you hear the term “All-American family” what images immediately come to mind? Are you picturing a scene from an 80s sitcom?” Or perhaps a tidy little house surrounded by a white-picket fence? Like apple pie amidst the backdrop of the stars and stripes, these images of the American ideal are embedded in our society, but yet so many families do not fit the mold.

To give readers a new perspective of the meaning of family, author and UT Austin alumna Paige Schilt (MA ’96, PhD ’00) chronicles her own story in her new book “Queer Rock Love: A Family Memoir” (Transgress Press, 2015). Through the power of raw, heartfelt storytelling, she shares the trials and triumphs of raising a gender-nonconforming family in the red state of Texas.

We sat down with Schilt to learn more about some big takeaways from her book—and why it’s important to face adversity head-on and embrace the many obstacles life throws our way.

What inspired you to write your memoir — in other words, why did you have to share your story?

I started writing stories about my tattooed, feminist, gender-nonconforming family—how we navigated day-to-day life in Texas, how we talked to our kid about gender—on an LGBTQ blog called The Bilerico Project. To my surprise, the stories were popular with a broad spectrum of readers, not just queer folks. In fact, some of my most loyal readers were the straight parents of my son’s friends from preschool.

I was working for an LGBTQ social justice organization and becoming increasingly concerned about the politics of family respectability in the movement for equality. I was worried that stories about perfect gay poster families might be effective in the short term, but in the long term, they might be a source of shame for nontraditional families who didn’t see themselves reflected in the model of the shiny-happy, heteronormative nuclear family that just happens to have two moms or two dads. So I tried to write really honestly about all the messiness of my family life, and it turned out that readers really responded to that.

The book covers some deeply personal moments in your life. What was it like revisiting some of the darkest and brightest chapters?

I wrote all the brightest and funniest chapters first, and I waited until I had book contract in hand to write the darkest moments. The middle part of the book is about my wife’s struggle with hepatitis C. Living with chronic illness really distorts your sense of time, and it’s hard to translate that into a compelling narrative. So I procrastinated that part until the end of my writing process, which was probably good because it gave me time to grow as a writer.

The synopsis states that “Queer Rock Love shatters the notion that families are always heteronormative.” Could you elaborate a little more about this?

For me, queer family is about honoring relationships that aren’t defined by blood or marriage or a shared domestic space. The title of the book comes from a song called “Dyke Hag,” which was penned by my friend (and fellow UT alum) Rachael Shannon. The song is a celebration of queer creative community and the non-nuclear-family ties that bind. When I was writing the book, the title was like a string around my finger, reminding me to always keep the big picture of queer community in mind, even as I was writing about marriage and parenting.

What is the most frequent question you’re asked when people read your story?

A lot of people ask if I’m going to make it into an audiobook.

What message do you hope readers will take away from the book?

Be open about your failures and messes. Ask for help when you need it. It will help you connect with other humans.

Do you have another book in the works?

I’m writing an as “as told to” memoir with someone else. It’s all the fun of constructing a compelling narrative, without the angst of dredging up my own secrets.

Michener Center Hosts Reading by Poet and Novelist Laura Kasischke Feb. 11

image of authorThe UT Michener Center for Writers will host a reading by poet and novelist Laura Kasischke on Thursday, Feb. 11 at 7:30 p.m. in the Avaya Auditorium, POB 2.302 on UT campus.

Kasischke is the author of nine acclaimed books of poetry, most recently The Infinitesimals. She won the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for Space, In Chains. She has also written nine novels, three adapted to feature film: The Life Before Her Eyes, starring Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood; Suspicious River; and White Bird in a Blizzard, which premiered at Sundance in 2014. Her collected stories were published in If A Stranger Approaches You. She is the endowed chair of English at the University of Michigan, where she teaches in their distinguished MFA program.

“It is not enough to say that Kasischke’s language is ‘poetic,’ a word that has come to mean ‘pretty.’ Rather, her writing does what good poetry does—it shows us an alternate world and lulls us into living in it.”– The New York Times

Parking is available in the nearby UT San Jacinto Garage, and the event is free and open to the public.

Save the Date! English Alumna to Read and Sign ‘Out of Darkness’ at BookPeople Jan. 8

image of bookYA Novelist Ashley Hope Pérez will stop by BookPeople to read and sign her new book Out of Darkness (Carolrhoda Books, 2015) on Friday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m.

In Out of Darkness. Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people. Read her Q&A for more about the book.

“[This] layered tale of color lines, love and struggle in an East Texas oil town is a pit-in-the-stomach family drama… A tragedy, real and racial, swallows us whole, and lingers.” – The New York Times Book Review

“The work resonates with fear, hope, love, and the importance of memory…. Pérez …gives voice to many long-omitted facets of U.S. history.” – starred, School Library Journal

image of authorIn addition to Out of Darkness, Ashley Hope Pérez is the author of the YA novels The Knife and the Butterfly, and What Can’t Wait. She grew up in Texas and taught high school in Houston before pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature. She is now a visiting assistant professor of comparative studies at The Ohio State University and spends most of her time reading, writing and teaching on topics from global youth narratives to Latin American and Latina/o fiction. She lives in Ohio with her husband, Arnulfo, and their son, Liam Miguel.

Before the BookPeople event, she be at the SCBWI Austin lunch with a fellow YA author Cynthia Leitich-Smith on Friday, Jan. 8, 12 p.m. (SCBWI membership required to register). She will also be at a writing workshop at The Writing Barn from 4-6 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 10. In Houston, she’ll be signing at Brazos Books on Saturday, Jan. 9, 7 p.m.

Visit these Facebook events to join in on the online conversation.
Austin-BookPeople:  https://www.facebook.com/events/852434314876257/

Houston-Brazos Books: https://www.facebook.com/events/1649418651976776/

 

Save the Date: Michener Center’s Visiting Professors Read their Works Dec. 3

Visiting professors, Jim Crace and Anthony Giardina, will be reading and discussing their literary works at a campus event hosted by the Michener Center for Writers on Thursday, Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the Aces Avaya Auditorium, POB 2.302.

 image of booksCrace’s ten books to date have received such honors as the Whitbread Novel Award and the National Book Critics’ Circle Fiction Award (Being Dead). His books Quarantine and Harvest have been shortlisted twice for the Man Booker Prize. His archive resides at the university’s Ransom Center

booksAnthony Giardina is the author of five novels, a story collection, and numerous plays, most recently City of Conversation, which has its world premier at Lincoln Center last year.

Parking is available in the nearby UT San Jacinto Garage, and the event is free and open to the public.

 

DDCE Researchers Expose the Myth of a Post-Racial America

RacialBattleFatigue_Lith1-400x600The notion that we live in a “colorblind society” is carefully dismantled in a new edition of Racial Battle Fatigue in Higher Education: Exposing the Myth of Post-Racial America (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Dec. 2014). Faculty from the DDCE are among several contributing authors examining an emerging body of research that suggests chronic exposure to racial discrimination can lead to a serious anxiety disorder.

In a chapter titled Exercising Agency in the Midst of Racial Battle Fatigue: A Case for Intragroup Diversity, they examine court decisions regarding diversity in higher education and point out several mitigating factors that create racial battle fatigue. As a solution, they state the case for advocating and obtaining support for diversity and inclusion efforts in colleges and schools across the nation. The chapter is co-authored by Gregory J. Vincent, vice president of diversity and community engagement; Sherri Sanders, DDCE associate vice president; and Stella Smith, DDCE postdoctoral fellow.

Save the Date! Author Naomi Klein to Discuss New Book about Capitalism, Climate Change

image of author Author Naomi Klein will give a public lecture on Nov. 11, 7-9 p.m. at the LBJ Library, Lady Bird Johnson Auditorium. The event is part of the Humanities Institute’s 2015-16 theme of Imagined Futures.

Naomi Klein Klein’s first two books, No Logo (1999) and The Shock Doctrine (2007), were international hits, with each book being translated into dozens of languages and selling over 1 million copies. The Shock Doctrine exposes the ulterior motives of the neoliberal economic paradigm—not to bring freedom and democracy to developing countries, but to exploit their labor and resources through austerity politics. Often, the imposition of this neoliberal paradigm occurs in places recently impacted by disasters, whether natural or purposely instigated. Thus, Klein’s neologism of “disaster capitalism.”

Klein’s most recent book, This Changes Everything (2014), argues that Capitalism cannot carry on with business as usual. Something beyond its power demands that be replaced with something else—Climate Change. Do not expect to find doom and gloom, however, in Klein’s book. Indeed, Climate Change is our “civilizational wake-up call.” First exposing the climate denial of the right and the ideology campaigns of wealthy, vested interests, Klein quickly moves into visiting small revolutions across the world, where people are responding to Climate Change in a way that benefits the economy, the people, and the planet. Reviewing these empowering movements, we feel compelled to answer “Yes” to Klein’s question: “History is knocking on our door; Are you ready to answer?”

Klein is the Humanity Institute’s eighth C.L. and Henriette Cline Visiting Professorship in the Humanities. Visit her website to learn more about her work.

Book on Medieval Syrian Shrines Takes Grand Prize at Hamilton Book Awards

images Stephennie Mulder, associate professor of Islamic art and architecture at The University of Texas at Austin, has been named the $10,000 grand prize winner of the 2015 University Co-op Robert W. Hamilton Book Awards for her work The Shrines of the ‘Alids in Medieval Syria: Sunnis, Shi’is, and the Architecture of Coexistence.

The Hamilton Awards are among the highest honors of literary achievement given to UT Austin authors.

The awards are named for Professor Robert W. Hamilton, the Minerva House Drysdale Regents Chair-Emeritus in Law, who served as chair of the board of the University Co-op from 1989 to 2001.

The Shrines of the ‘Alids in Medieval Syria: Sunnis, Shi’is, and the Architecture of Coexistence (published by Edinburgh University Press) is the first illustrated, architectural history of these shrines, increasingly endangered by the conflict in Syria. Mulder, a specialist in Islamic architectural history and archaeology, spent years in the field in Syria and throughout the Middle East. She works on the conservation of antiquities and cultural heritage sites endangered by war and illegal trafficking, and is a founder of UT Antiquities Action, a group dedicated to raising awareness of the loss of cultural heritage.

Three other UT Austin professors received $3,000 runner-up prizes:

  • Donna Kornhaber, Department of English, for Charlie Chaplin, Director(Northwestern University Press)
  • Fernando L. Lara, Department of Architecture, for Modern Architecture in Latin America: Art, Technology, and Utopia, co-authored with Luis E. Carranza (University of Texas Press)
  • Kelly McDonough, Department of Spanish and Portuguese, for The Learned Ones: Nahua Intellectuals in Postconquest Mexico (University of Arizona Press)

The University Co-operative Society also announced winners for its research awards Monday. Go to this website for more information.

 

Former UT Austin English Professor Releases New Historical Novel

authorpicbookFormer UT Austin creative writing professor Elizabeth Harris recently released Mayhem: Three Lives of a Woman (October, Gival Press), a novel that follows the causes and consequences of an unusual crime.

Two stock farmers in Central Texas (circa 1936) are accused of castrating a neighbor under circumstances deriving from standard gender and social relations. The daughter of prominent landowners, regarded as the cause of this crime, is outcast from home and family, rescued by clergy in the role of plot angels, and becomes a paid laborer in other people’s homes, where she undergoes a muted, nearly 20-year recovery from trauma. 

As to what makes a historical novel, Harris replies, “Some definitions say a detailed, realistic, historical setting, which I tried to give Mayhem, and a fidelity to the culture and society of the period, which, as imagined in Mayhem, shape the action.”

The setting of Harris’ novel is a synthesis of rural places in Central Texas, 1917-1954. 

“Other definitions want the historical novel to be about a historical event or person, like Gerald Duff’s new novel about Custer’s Last Stand, or Charles Frazier’s novel Cold Mountain, about a wounded Confederate deserter making his way homeward in the North Carolina mountains,” says Harris.

But in Mayhem the characters and events are fictional, although some details of the crime and its consequences are based on one that occurred in Texas at a different period. 

Harris attributes her interest in historical settings to her Texas family’s closeness to the past.

“My father’s father—the only one of my grandparents not born in Texas—was born in 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War. He had an Alabama childhood memory from the end of the War.”

“Alternating between delighting you with pastoral descriptions of the Hill Country, lulling you with sepia-tones portraits of the good ol’ days, and smacking you in the face with the gender, race, and class conventions. . .of the period, Mayhem is a surprising blend of plot-driven crime story, character study, and social critique.. . .When you decide you know where this is going, Evelyn hijacks the plot. It’s not what you think it is—it’s better.” – Michelle Newsby, Lone Star Literary Life

Visit the author’s website to learn more and view the book trailer. http://elizabethharriswriter.com/ .

 

Award-Winning Guatemalan Novelist David Unger to Read from his Works

image of book coverGuatemalan novelist and translator David Unger will discuss his works today from 4 to 6 p.m. in Benedict Hall, room 2.104.

Unger won the 2014 Premio Nacional de Literatura Miguel Angel Asturias, the highest award for a Guatemalan writer. He is the international Representative for the Guadalajara International Book Fair and teaches at the City College of New York. His new novel, El manipulador (The Manipulator), has just appeared in both Spanish and English editions.

The event is hosted by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies. Co-Sponsored by LLILAS Benson.