Latina/os in academia: A look at numbers

Patricia Portales, Margaret Cantu-Sanchez, and Candace de Leon -Zepeda are receiving their doctorate degrees in English from UTSA this weekend [12 May 2012]. While Latinos make up 15 percent of the U.S. population, they account for only 3.6 percent of the doctoral degrees awarded in the United States and can be counted in the low thousands. Helen L. Montoya/San Antonio Express-News
Photo: HELEN L. MONTOYA, SAN ANTONIO EXPRESS-NEWS / ©2012 HELEN MONTOYA PHOTOGRAPHY

This past weekend, I came across “Latinas blaze path to doctoral degrees” (12 May 2012), an article that tells the story of the three gorgeous Latinas pictured above, who are newly minted Ph.D.s in English from the University of Texas at San Antonio. First and foremost, I want to send out my congratulations to them and to wish them all the best as they continue their academic careers! I hope I will have the chance to meet these new colleagues in person one day. For now, I’ll just look forward to sharing their story with my students, who I know will be tremendously inspired by the challenges these women have overcome.

The nature of the challenges–and particularly the numbers and statistics behind them–are ones that I lose sight of all too easily, even though I myself was a first-generation doctoral graduate. The caption of the image above begins to hint at the rarity of what Dr.s Portales, Cantu-Sanchez and de Leon-Zepeda have achieved. Latina/os (note: the term “Latina/o” includes people whose origins extend to any Latin American country, not just Mexico) comprise 15% of the US population, yet according to the National Center for Education Statistics, we received only the following in 2009:

  • 8% of bachelors degrees
  • 6% of Master’s degrees
  • 3% of Ph.D.s.

Moroever, Latina/os comprise just 4% of college faculty. (By way of comparison, whites received 71.% of bachelors degrees, 64% of Master’s and 63% of Ph.D.s. and make up 75% of faculty.)

These numbers are made even smaller if we keep in mind how many Americans (25 years or older and of any race) earn a doctoral degree in the first place: 1.5% of the US population as a whole in 2011. Therefore, these three women and I represent a select group only .045%. We don’t even make up one half of one percentage point.

Now, to focus specifically on Mexican Americans, here is a handy flowchart and more numbers that astound me (and as a Humanities scholar, numbers usually don’t move me all that much):

From “Leaks in the Chicana and Chicano Educational Pipeline,” by Tara Yosso and David Solorzano, Latino Policy and Issues Brief No. 13 (March 2006).

Again, we see that Chicana/os do not make up a full percentage point of doctoral earners. Seeing this figure always shocks me, particularly when I discuss it in class with my students. (The part that always gets to me: of the seventeen students who attend a community college, only one will successfully transfer to a four-year institution…such a tremendous gap!) As I explain to students, I live in a strange world where most of my close friends are people of color with Ph.D.s and who are either tenured or on the tenure-track at top universities (as well as, of course, my colleagues and the people with whom I interact on a day-to-day basis at work). On some days, it seems to me, “Everybody gets a Ph.D. Big deal.” And yet it truly IS a big deal. You just have to conduct the most cursory examination of these facts and figures to appreciate it.

Looking at that flowchart again, I don’t have the time/space/energy to start get into all the reasons why Chicana/os graduate at such low rates. One thing I do want to do, though, is to caution against engaging in any theories of cultural deficiency, which basically means blaming some monolithic notion of Mexican American or Latino “culture” for whatever is “wrong” in Latino communities. For example, there is a terrible stereotype that Latino students don’t perform as well as whites as Asians simply because “Latinos just don’t care about education,” a pernicious idea that gets bandied about not just in popular media, but also from the mouths of administrators at my own university campus, who should know much better than to think this way. Instead, I will point you to the excellent work of Critical Race Theory and education scholars such as Tara Yosso, Daniel Solorzano and Marcos Pizarro, who are helping to transform our understanding of the Latina/o educational crisis by analyzing the impact  issues such as educational inequities, lack of funding, historical trauma, racial battle fatigue and microagressions.

Okay, so there are the numbers in my head for today; it’s a lot to wrap one’s brain around. However, this is the numerical groundwork I have to lay for an angsty post about my own education experience and class status that I have planned for tomorrow. Now doesn’t that sound like a fun read? See you tomorrow…

9 thoughts on “Latina/os in academia: A look at numbers

  1. What a fabulous photo of women who deserve to feel proud of their achievement. I hope these numbers don’t discourage, I hope they act as a motivator to those considering going further with their education, it is indeed a fascinating subject.

    It got me thinking about how in some communities there is now a huge pressure and expectation to attain higher education as a pre-requisite to entering the workforce and how competitive that has become.

    Slightly off your subject, but I was fascinated to read this week that up to 90% of school leavers in major Asian cities are suffering from myopia – short-sightedness, caused by students working very hard in school and missing out on outdoor light – a negative health effect of that very competitive environment.

    So work hard and make sure you spend at least 3 hours/day out in the day/sun light :)

    • That’s crazy about the myopia in Asia (and a good reminder about sunlight!). The first university where I taught had many students from China, and I guess there students often learn by doing drills and memorizing teachers’ points of view (or at least, not engaging in much critical thinking and/or questioning of authority). In my observation, many of them really struggled with open-ended essay questions that required them to argue their own point of view, which always surprised me because in class discussions, they often shared really interesting perspectives, coming from outside out culture..

  2. Astounding numbers… I do not identify as a Mexican-American, I identify as what I am – both. I can’t really say that my mom’s side of the family is Mexican, although technically true because so far as we can tell her family has been here in Colorado since it was actually Mexico. No records of anyone coming from Spain, only stories and the intentional distancing from all the negative connotations of being Mexican. Anyway, my maiden name was McKim and a I have a white married name of unknown origin. I always check the Hispanic box. Always. Sometimes I will also check the Anglo box and the Other box. I check the box that represents the minority, and the people who look like me. So my question is, how do you feel about someone like me adding to the Chicana ranks when you might not really consider me to be Chicana?

    I’ve noticed that you make the distinctions among Latina/os of differing descent, and I understand the differences – but I come from the perspective that non-Latinos will categorize anyone who is brown and/or speaks Spanish as just one thing. The comedian Ralphie May makes a comment in his routine that we’re all just Mexicans to him. There are differences among us, but I think to the average gringo this is funny because it’s true. Thoughts? I’d love to add this conversation to my blog as well.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Ginger–thanks so much for your reply! I *totally* would consider you to be Chicana. :) To me, Mexican American or Chicana/o is just an umbrella term for a wide-variety of experiences. There is so much ethnic, racial, class, geographic, etc. diversity in our communities…far be it from me to say who’s in or who’s out! In fact, I always try to disabuse my students of the notion that there’s only one “right” way to be Chicano. In the part of the Midwest where my family is from, it’s very common to see people of Mexican/Polish and Mexican/Italian ancestries.

      I agree with Ralphie May! It’s frustrating and true. To share one of my experiences: My research is about Mexican Americans in the early 20th century, and I once had to teach with a white professor who assumed that (a) my first language was Spanish, which it wasn’t; (b) I must love the 17th century novel Don Quixote, which I hadn’t ever read; and (c) I could teach the work of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who I knew very little about. Apparently he thought I must surely represent Spanish-speaking peoples and cultures across the centuries and continents!

      This conversation has given me an idea for a future post. I hope you wouldn’t mind if I link to you in it. I want to share a quote a short story written in 1947 by Mario Suarez, one of my favorite writers, about how diverse Chicana/os are. I think you’d like it…

      • Love it! Your story about the white professor is a perfect example! I would be honored if you linked to me. This kind of dialogue is what I need and is needed by others. Looking forward to talking with you more. Thank you!

  3. Pingback: A Latina in academia: My individual experience | The Daily Chicana

  4. Pingback: What–or who–is a Chicano? | The Daily Chicana

  5. Pingback: Microagressions: a follow-up to “A Latina in Academia” | The Daily Chicana

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