Enhancing college diversity
Led by FPU’s 34 percent, Latino presence grows at U.S. Mennonite collegesBy Kelli Yoder Mennonite World Review
Dina Gonzalez-Piña experienced a bit of culture shock when she attended Mennonite Brethren-affiliated Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University in the 1980s.
“Even though I was coming from the Central Valley [of California, where FPU is located], I came from a high school that was mostly people of color,” Gonzalez-Piña said. “I had never been with so many white people… . It felt a little lonely.”
But she and other students of color on the then more than 80 percent white campus found meaningful support from each other and from a professor who was fluent in Spanish and took the time to get to know their families. A few years after she graduated, she applied for a job at FPU.
“I wanted to create that same atmosphere for others,” she said.
She was hired as a staff recruiter and later became the director of admissions where she hired admissions counselors, translators and other staff members who are bilingual both in terms of the Spanish language and culture. Now she serves as assistant dean of multicultural ministries.
Staff who understand the culture are crucial to FPU’s success in recruiting from the nearly 40 percent Latino surrounding area, said Jon Endicott, FPU’s interim vice president for enrollment management.
“This is something that has been an ongoing process for over 20 years, because of our geography,” he said.
Today, FPU — where 34 percent of students are Latino, and 45 percent are white — reflects a university-wide effort to mirror its surrounding community.
A scholarship for undocumented students was founded 12 years ago. In 2009, FPU was named a Hispanic-Serving Institution, which requires a minimum of 25 percent Latino students. Last year, Pete C. Menjares became FPU’s first Hispanic president.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects the rest of the nation will see Latino population rates similar to California’s within 50 years. As a result, other U.S. Mennonite colleges and universities are joining FPU in asking how best to respond.
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