UNO drops the ball on Latinx student and cultural engagement

Photo courtesy of Michael Herndon
Guest contributor Michael Herndon writes on how UNO’s cultural outreach should be more inclusive to Latino/a students.
Michael Herndon

Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 is Latino Heritage month, and as a Latino student at UNO, I was excited to see what events the University would put on to celebrate my culture. In early September, I received an email about a talent show that was being organized by the Office of Multicultural Affairs in partnership with our Office of Latino and Latin American Studies. The day of the event rolled around and after class, I made my way to the ballroom, which is one of the largest rooms on campus and usually home to huge events like the Dance Marathon. When I arrived, the room was completely set up with tables and chairs, but to my dismay, I was the only student who had shown up. The show had one performance. All at once, I felt surprised that there was no one else in attendance, sad that this special month was getting ignored and angry at UNO for not doing a better job at putting on better, more publicized events.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha is an affiliate member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) and 10 percent of its students are Latinx, making Latinx the second most represented ethnicity in the student body behind Caucasian. Glancing at these numbers would lead the average person to believe that UNO has a thriving Latinx culture with resources and events dedicated to serving this part of the student body. After all, there is an ocean of research proving that cultural resources improve retention and student satisfaction. Unfortunately, that average person would be wrong about UNO. The truth is that UNO does not do enough to serve its Latinx population and needs to step up its level of commitment if it wants continue advertising as a beacon of diversity.

A lackluster Latino Heritage Month is just one example of UNO’s shortfall. In my three years at UNO, I have never seen any large-scale events intended to target the Latinx student body. No concerts, festivals, dances or similar events have been organized by UNO. Without this kind of programing, Latinx students feel isolated within the predominately white institution that is UNO.

When looking at what other Nebraska schools do for their Latinx populations, it is easy for UNO students to feel cheated. At UNL, the diversity office has a tradition of hosting “Fiesta on the Green,” an annual celebration of Latinx culture with professional entertainment, games, food and prizes. At Creighton, the Latino Student Association hosts an annual December gathering called “Las Mañanitas” to celebrate the Virgin Guadalupe, which comprises a mass and reception complete with a mariachi, food and drinks at St. John’s Church. Both of these events are attended by more than one hundred people and are huge successes every year. UNO doesn’t need to look far to see what real cultural student outreach looks like.

Many might point to the existence of UNO’s American Multicultural Students Agency (AMS), Association of Latin American Students (ALAS) or Office of Multicultural Affairs as proof of UNO’s commitment to diversity, but currently, these groups are skeletons of what they should be. AMS has zero events posted on their website and most students have never heard of it, ALAS hasn’t put on a large event in years, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs time and time again, misses the mark for their events.

Between my personal experience, observation of other Nebraska schools, and critical evaluation of UNO’s current efforts to engage Latinx students, I can easily conclude that UNO is not doing enough. Not spending enough money, not spending enough time to plan things ahead and publicize and not self-evaluating enough. UNO is estimated to be a Hispanic Serving Institution by around 2025, meaning that our student body will be at least 25 percent Latinx. When that time comes, it will be imperative that UNO has systems in place that serve this huge chunk of the student body. Now is the time for students and faculty alike to work together to establish a rich tradition of Latinx student engagement. Go Mavericks!