Organization promotes higher education to high school Latinas

State Hornet Staff

Sacramento State’s nonprofit organization Mujeres Ayudando La Raza, is helping increase the low numbers of Latinas enrolled in colleges, by providing higher education resources to students from surrounding high schools.

Last Friday the organization hosted its 14th annual youth conference, “Latinas Superando la Educacion,” to promote higher education among Latinas and to empower the 90 high school students who attended.

Ethnic studies professor Elvia Ramirez, said Latinas represent the largest group of racial minority women in the country, but have the lowest education levels among women.

According to the 2012 Statistical Abstract of the United States, 14.9 percent of Latina women obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 29.9 percent of Caucasian women, 21.4 percent of African-American women and 49.5 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander women.

“Statistics reveal Latinas are increasing their numbers in higher education, but it is important to keep in mind that Latinas continue to be underrepresented in higher education,” Ramirez said. “Our numbers in higher education do not reflect our increasing demographic presence in the larger population especially in states like California.”

The conference provided workshops on topics from financial aid and networking to better inform students about college and to encourage them to become leaders in the community.

Government major Lucero De La Rosa said she found the undocumented women workshop helpful.

“Many girls do not know they can go to college even if they are undocumented,” De La Rosa said. “It’s important to inform them and promote higher education at an earlier age.”

De La Rosa said girls need to be encouraged and shown they are not alone by seeing a community of Latinas who are succeeding in college.

Sac State Alumna and Chicano activist Yeimi Lopez was a guest speaker at the conference who spoke about her college experience as an undocumented Latina and success in higher education.

Lopez shared her struggle of migrating to Tustin, Calif., at age 7. She said she plans to pursue her masters in ethnic studies while helping her family buy their first home in the U.S.

Local folkloric group Lacustre Michoacan de Ocampo provided entertainment for the students at the conference and showed support for the Hispanic cultural heritage.

Mujeres Ayudando La Raza Retention Recruiter Marisol Moreno said she had no knowledge about available resources for college when she was in high school.

“I struggled a lot because I am the first in my family to go to college, and I had to find out how to get here my own way,” Moreno said. “We want to empower our fellow Latinas by informing them about a college education.”

Ramirez said there are structural and cultural reasons behind the low numbers of Latinas in higher education.

Structural explanations can focus on financial need, poor kindergarten through 12th grade education, lack of access to college counseling and preparation, low teacher expectations and educational segregation.

Ramirez said cultural reasons may refer to the students’ families being unaware of the college process, keeping families from guiding their children through the application process.

“Many teachers have low expectations of Latinas and tell them they do not have to go to college and instead should pursue in vocational or less challenging careers,” Ramirez said. “I think it is great that Sac State orgs [Mujeres Ayudando La Raza]are reaching out to the community and providing encouragement and support to the students who lack this.”

High school student Aizenia Lopez, 16, was one of the 90 girls who attended the youth conference and said she wants to major in ethnic studies.

“Before coming here,  I didn’t know if I could go to a four-year university because of my financial stability. So I was planning on going to a community college,” Lopez said. “This was my first time coming, and it was a great experience to learn things that all Latinas should know.”

Lopez said the youth conference allowed her to feel supported and assured her she can succeed in higher education.