The Association of Mexicans in North Carolina Inc. (AMEXCAN) and the Eastern North Carolina Latin American Coalition Inc. (ENCLACO) hosted the second Latino Advisory Council Meeting on Wednesday featuring a student panel.
The student panel shared their stories and discussed their obstacles as Latino students with an audience of East Carolina University faculty members.
The moderator for the event, Paola Rodriguez, program coordinator of AMEXCAN, said the Latino Advisory Council is a platform meant to bring the community together.
“Professionals, business owners, community members and nonprofit organizations can all engage in a conversation and share our opinions about the enrollment of higher education in the Latino community,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez began the discussion by asking who or what motivated the students in the panel to attend college.
Kathy Cruz, a social work major, said she is working on her bachelor’s degree at ECU and hopes to pursue a master’s degree, due to her own motivation and because of her parents.
“I motivated myself. I feel like my parents are the reason I want to be in college just because they were deported, and I feel like that has strived me to do better and to continue my education and to continue getting my degree,” Cruz said.
Rodriguez then asked the panel what they felt were their most substantial obstacles as Latino college students.
Maria Fuentes, an international student at ECU, said she struggled to pay a higher tuition and noticed a stark culture shock.
“I found a big language barrier for me, at the beginning it was really hard,” said Fuentes. “They didn’t respect me because I was an international student. I feel like my teachers didn’t know how to support me.”
Israel Mendez, an aspiring physicians assistant studying at ECU, said his biggest struggle has been lack of support from his family and his institution.
“I can give a vivid example of something so simple, I remember we were in the dorm rooms my freshman year and everybody had a care package but me, and that’s when I knew I was different,” said Mendez. “It’s not because they (my family) didn’t care about me or didn’t love me, it’s just they didn’t know. It was the lack of support, even from my institution, I guess them assuming that we had the resources or we even knew what to ask.”
Mendez spoke to the crowd about his belief that there are good people no matter where you go and it’s just a matter of finding them. He said he was able to find a great support network at ECU.
“Thankfully here at ECU we have the pre-professional advising center and they were amazing,” said Mendez. “ECU has done a phenomenal job supporting me.”
Oswaldo Rangel, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) student at ECU, said he never expected for his education to surpass a high school diploma due to language and financial obstacles. But, the university’s Honors College changed his perspective.
“I wasn’t motivated to go to college until I heard about the East Carolina Honors College,” Rangel said.
In the discussion portion of the meeting, an audience member asked the students to pretend they each had a magic wand and could change one aspect of their institution.
Cruz responded by saying ECU needs to reach out to its Latino and Hispanic students and let them know they’re not alone.
“I haven’t had a single faculty or ECU rep come up to me or an email,” Cruz said. “I still feel like I don’t fit in.”
Fuentes also gave her input on the hypothetical situation and said she would like the faculty to be more aware of the situation of a person who arrives in a new culture without their parents or anyone else. She said she would like to see ECU check in on international students and make sure they adjust well.
“There needs to be more attention to the student at least at the beginning, at least, because the first semester is unsettling in a new country. I think the faculty has to be prepared for that,” Fuentes said.