Latinas in Education

Women’s History Month panel focuses on the past and future of Hispanic female leadership.

Friday, Mar 22, 2024 • Written by Monique Bird :

Photo of Dr. Elsa Camargo speaking at the Latinas in Education panel eventA recent UTA panel celebrating Women’s History Month is putting a spotlight on the contributions of Hispanic women in the past and on the ways today’s female history makers can fully tap into their potential.

Dr. Elsa Camargo, assistant professor in the UTA College of Education, served on the panel – “Latinas en Educación” (Latinas in Education) – alongside UTA colleague Dr. Minerva Cordero, interim vice provost for faculty success, and Teresa Marie Ayala, trustee and board president of the Tarrant County College District.

“Historically, women of color have not been recognized as part of the larger women’s movements,” said Dr. Camargo.

“It’s important to acknowledge that we do have history and, specifically for the Latino community, it’s important to understand our history as women,” she added. “It’s often not something we have access to in formal paths of education. This allows us to close some of the knowledge gaps and to have intergenerational connections between our past and the current success of women.”

Among the topics, the talk challenged the panelists and the audience to consider the role of family support in women’s success, life as a graduate student of color, misconceptions and stereotypes about Latinas, and the ways cultural traditions, heritage, and family dynamics in the Hispanic community shape women’s experiences.

“In Virginia, I thought about my parents and when they first immigrated to this country because I was often the only Latina or student of color in my courses. ‘What was it like for them not to know the language? What was it like not to have any family around?’” said Camargo, who completed her Ph.D. in higher education from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

“Being in those spaces allowed me to learn more about myself as I experienced various forms of racism and microaggressions,” she continued. “That story doesn’t go away – even when you have the degree. That motivates me to want to change higher education. I don’t want other children of recent immigrants to experience these things in education.”

Her fellow panelists were similarly motivated.

“The day I left Puerto Rico was one of the most difficult days of my life,” said Dr. Minerva Codero. “To this day, I remember everyone in the neighborhood getting on the bus to ride with me to the airport. It was this big celebration. My mother was the most excited. Here I was – the first one in our community – going to get a graduate degree. That kept me going.”

“It’s important to have representation of people who look like me and talk like me so that we can support other students,” said Ayala. “The key is that we cannot do the things we do without the support of our families – whether it’s a spouse, a mother, a friend.”  

The event, hosted by UTA’s office of Hispanic Serving Institution Initiatives in partnership with the EDGE Center, UTA Libraries, and Latinx Graduate Student Association (LGSA), also tackled the challenges the next generation of Latina leaders might experience.

"When I left for my Ph.D., my parents were not on board with me leaving Chicago,” said Camargo when asked about family resistance. “They kept asking why I needed to leave a city that had universities in it to choose from They didn’t have a formal education and it was hard to explain. The conversation was painful, but I knew they wanted the best for me, they wanted me to succeed. It was just that knowledge gap that made it hard for them to understand that in my new environment, success was linked to my being able to grow professionally away from home.”

Ayala explained that often, the desire to remain together is a cultural value.

“What worked for me in school is that I would call regularly. I would share the experiences about what I was learning and the people I met. This allowed my parents to become part of the journey. We were all going through this together, and they became much more excited about the experience,” said Ayala.

She added that while there was still resistance, her father would always give her a blessing before she left and when she came back home.

“Your parents are the most supportive unit you will ever have, so share the experience with them – I think it’ll make them more supportive.”

Still, even with family support, all three panelists noted that there is still much work to help give women new opportunities to succeed.

“Women’s History Month gives us the opportunity to celebrate the contribution of those who came before us,” said Ayala. “We all stand on the shoulders of someone. Frankly, I think we should celebrate it every day. It’s also a celebration of those to come and to unlock the potential of things women can do.”