By Dean Scott Ryan
School of Social Work
For sure, things are different this year than last for National Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins Sept. 15 and continues through Oct. 15.
As a country, we’re moving beyond the massive shutdowns of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic; but we’re experiencing escalating hospital admissions among children due to viral infections.
Although more is needed in education and informing Hispanic and Latinx communities about the COVID-19 vaccines, there are fewer reports indicating they don’t have access to the vaccines.
According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which researches public responses to health crises, Hispanic people are less likely than their White counterparts to have taken the vaccines.
Even so, there are many reasons to celebrate Hispanic and Latinx heritage month, which is set aside to celebrate the enormous contributions of these Americans to the economic, social and cultural growth and vitality of the United States.
This year’s theme is Esperanza: A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Hope. It encourages reflection, resilience and hope.
“This past year has been one unlike any in recent memory,” says Victor Anthony Zertuche, an attorney at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who created the theme.
“But despite how our world has changed, we’ve kept our eyes on the horizon; we’ve held onto our hope,” he said in a release. “It provides us an opportunity to reflect on those who came before us and held onto hope to create a better tomorrow.”
This year, esperanza, or hope, is welcomed – and much needed.
Where can we find it? We can find hope in less-reported news areas such as in higher education.
Mostly overlooked during this pandemic were the rising rates at which Hispanic students were finishing high school and enrolling in colleges and universities.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, between 2000 and 2015, college enrollment rates among Hispanic undergraduate students increased by 50 percent to three million students. From 2000 to 2015, the rate of Hispanic high school graduates enrolled in college climbed from 22 to 37 percent – a whopping 13-point increase!
By comparison, the rates of White students enrolling in college during roughly the same time frame – 1993 to 2014 - increased by 5 percentage points. College enrollment rates among Black students rose by nine percent while that of Asian students climbed also by nearly nine points, according to statistics reported by the Pew Research Center.
While this was a positive trend before the pandemic, it underscores the reason the 2021 theme is so relevant. It is critically important now to be resilient in these trying times and to be hopeful for better days. We also should be advocates and agents of change.
It is true the pandemic hit many Hispanic and Latinx families harder. The world’s worst health crisis in nearly a century ushered in higher job losses, increased food insecurity, widened health disparities and exposed more of the glaring issues of social injustice. In addition, immigration concerns still hover over many households.
Across the nation, some colleges and universities experienced drops in enrollment among Hispanic students during the pandemic. FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, saw a nearly 20 percent decline among Hispanic students applying for financial assistance for the 2021-22 school year in comparison to the year before, the Washington Post reported in a January 2021 article on the matter.
Still, we must remain steadfast and hopeful in the pursuit of college degrees for Hispanic and Latinx students. Obtaining higher education degrees offers opportunities to close wealth gaps, narrow health disparities, experience better health outcomes, buy homes, and build a solid financial future.
There is reason to be hopeful. UTA is designated a Hispanic Serving Institution and we continue to see overall and consistent increases in enrollment from Hispanic and Latinx students. We’ve also seen this increase in Social Work; however, more Hispanic and Latinx Social Workers are needed to serve the growing Hispanic communities. In addition, there is a great need in our career field for more Hispanic and Latinx students to pursue graduate school for the Master of Social Work and PhD in Social Work degrees.
The School of Social Work is committed to further expanding our recruiting efforts into high schools by educating students, teachers, coaches, influencers, and parents of the benefits of a Social Work degree. We have strengthened our recruiting, mentoring, and advising programs to better guide Hispanic and Latinx students through their undergraduate and graduate matriculation here at UTA.
Our past provides a roadmap for overcoming challenges. This pandemic, though unprecedented, can be overcome.
Our collective future depends on you. Embrace esperanza!
Scott D. Ryan
Dean and Professor
School of Social Work
The University of Texas at Arlington