The sixth annual Latino Communities Conference took place in Sykes Student Union on Sept. 16. This year’s theme, “Creando Alianzas Entre Comunidades” or “Creating Alliances Across Communities,” was echoed throughout the day in a series of presentations, speeches, and performances.
Starting at 9:30 a.m. and concluding at 6 p.m., attendees of the conference were able to pick and choose from over 30 eye-opening, informative presentations. A keynote speech was given at lunchtime by Dr. Carlos Vargas-Aburto, the acting president of Kutztown University. The other presentations, given by members of West Chester University and influential members of the surrounding community, discussed an array of pertinent issues, challenges, and solutions facing our country’s growing Latino population.
Vargas-Aburto explained the 28 percent increase in Latino enrollment at Kutztown over a five-year period. This increase mirrors an overall trend in Southeastern Pennsylvania and the greater United States. Kutztown has taken these trends in stride, by working diligently to increase the retention rates of its Latino students.
On a similar note, Dr. Idna Corbett, the Dean of WCU’s Undergraduate Student Support Services, and Angela DellaValle, an ESL Department Head for Upper Merion Area School District and adjunct faculty member of WCU, presented “Explaining the Achievement Gap for Latinos in High School and College.” The talk built from Vargas-Aburto’s message. It gave audience members an idea of pervasive misconceptions about Latino students in the U.S. and how they affect the students’ performance in high school and, subsequently, their ability to matriculate in college. Corbett and DellaValle’s overwhelming message was to challenge these misconceptions and respect each student as a unique individual. “Wherever you are in your place to affect change, you need to do so,” DellaValle urged the audience.
Many students contributed to the success of the conference by sharing their experiences, either as members or allies of the Latino community. Emily Polefka, a senior English BSED and Special Education major at West Chester, gave a presentation entitled, “My Teaching Experience in the Urban Latino Community.” This past summer, Polefka joined over 200 students from West Chester and other schools for a Special Education seminar. She was placed at Edison High School in Northeast Philadelphia. There, she was able to teach and observe Latino students facing challenges with the English language. “My presentation centered around what I learned as a teacher throughout that experience and how I can best prepare myself to give equal and fair education to students from all walks of life,” Polefka stated. “It was inspiring to work with these students on a daily basis.”
The conference worked double-duty, not only providing attendees with information but also enlightening them to various cultural experiences as well. During a break in the conference from 3:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m., the sounds of the WCU Latin Jazz Ensemble could be heard all throughout Sykes. Students waiting in line at Java City or relaxing in the commuter lounge were energized by the ensemble’s performance, which has been a mainstay of the conference since its inaugural year in 2009.
The Calpulli Cezontle Cuicatl also provided a glimpse into the rich artistic culture of Latin America with their performance of traditional Aztec dance and discussion of Aztec and Mexican culture.
By the end of the day, West Chester University’s Latino Communities Conference left attendees with both a comprehensive understanding of our Latino students, neighbors, and friends and the pressing desire to be a positive force for change in their communities.
Molly Herbison is a fourth-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at MH757997@wcupa.edu.