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Dominican conference looks at ways to welcome Latino students

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
August 8, 2018

Dominican conference looks at ways to welcome Latino students

More than 40 Catholic colleges, universities and campus ministries participated in "El Futuro Is Here," a three-day conference hosted by Dominican University on how to do campus ministry and theological education with Latino students.
Parents of Hispanic students at Dominican University participate in a panel discussion Aug. 1 about how colleges can work with Hispanic families during "El Futuro Is Here," a July 31-Aug. 2, 2018, conference hosted by Dominican University about how Catholic colleges and universities can better minister to Hispanic students. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kaelyn Andrade leads a tour on Aug. 1 of the National Museum of Mexican Art during "El Futuro Is Here," a July 31-Aug. 2, 2018, conference hosted by Dominican University about how Catholic colleges and universities can better minister to Hispanic students. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic) (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Victor Lara and Kelly Garcia from DePaul University examine religious art at the National Museum of Mexican Art on Aug. 1, 2018. They visited the museum as part of a three-day conference hosted by Dominican University in River Forest for Catholic colleges, universities and nonprofit organizations across the country to find ways to be more responsive to the cultural backgrounds of Latino students. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Alejandra Guereca from Benedictine University and Daniela Alaniz from Marian University examine religious art Victor Lara and Kelly Garcia from DePaul University examine religious art at the National Museum of Mexican Art on Aug. 1, 2018. They visited the museum as part of a three-day conference hosted by Dominican University in River Forest for Catholic colleges, universities and nonprofit organizations across the country to find ways to be more responsive to the cultural backgrounds of Latino students. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Yolanda Franco knows about being a Latino student in a Catholic institution of higher education.

Franco, a 2010 graduate of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, earned a bachelor’s degree at Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois, and a graduate degree in leadership at St. Mary’s College of California. Now she is a Lasallian Scholar at St. Mary’s, organizing immersion trips for students and connecting them to Catholic social teaching.

“The thing that strikes me is that I’ve always had to be the one who had to adjust to the way things are done,” Franco said. “It would have been nice if they would meet me halfway.”

Franco was among the participants at “El Futuro Is Here,” a conference about how to do campus ministry and theological education with Latino students hosted by Dominican University. More than 40 colleges and universities, most of them Catholic, participated.

“We use the word ‘intentional’ a lot in the church,” Franco said. “I think we need to be more intentional in welcoming Latino students.”

Claire Noonan, vice president for mission and ministry at Dominican University, said the July 31-Aug. 2 conference had its roots in Dominican’s experience.

About half of Dominican’s undergraduate students identify as Hispanic, as do 65 percent of the incoming freshmen, Noonan said, and the university started an internship to involve Latino students in peer ministry about five years ago.

“We wanted to do university ministry in a more culturally responsive way,” Noonan said. “In general, we have been slow to respond. We have been slow to change our practices to put their experiences at the center of what we do.”

Doing that means listening to Latino students and their families. It can mean using different art and music in liturgical spaces, for example, or offering different food at events. It can mean expanding the definitions of peer ministry to include the work students do in their own communities, and it can mean making a commitment to pay students for their work in ministry.

“What we have found out is that many Latino students have responsibilities in their families, to take care of younger siblings or elders, or they have a job that helps support their family,” she said. “Up until now, campus ministry was something we invited students to do in their enormous amounts of free time. That’s not their life.”

But more and more, the life of Latino young people is going to be the life of the church. Hosffman Ospino, an associate professor of theology at Boston College, gave a keynote talk and reminded participants that Hispanics in the United States are a young population, with a median age of under 30. A 2016 study by Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, found that a majority of U.S. Catholics born after the Second Vatican Council are Hispanic.

“Ministry with Hispanic Catholics is largely ministry with Hispanic youth and young adults,” Ospino said. “Catholic colleges and universities, as well as Catholic elementary and secondary schools, should not miss this opportunity.”

Catholic colleges and universities, he said, need Hispanic students, just as Hispanic young people need the education and formation that Catholic colleges and universities provide.

Despite that, only 20 of about 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States are considered “Hispanic-serving institutions,” meaning that at least 25 percent of their students are Hispanic, Noonan said.

Capuchin Franciscan Father Hai Ho, chaplain at St. Mary’s College of California’s campus ministry center, said the Latino population at the school is very much present. He wants to make sure that those students understand that their experience is important and that they are valuable members of the community, he said.

“How do we come together to dialogue with one another, to find resources to care for those students?” he said.

Steven Zlatic, the director of ministry at Lewis University, said he knows the future of the church is largely Hispanic, and that his university and his office must serve Hispanic students because, he said, they are part of the body of Christ.

“But we don’t know how to do it very well,” he said.

Between 15 and 20 percent of Lewis’ students are Hispanic, he said, but that number isn’t necessarily reflected in their participation in campus activities. Part of that may be because a higher proportion of Hispanic students are commuters, he said.

“To have that diversity, we need structures and support services to accompany these young people,” Zlatic said.

Figuring out how best to do that has been a challenge, he said.

“When we talk to our students, they say, ‘You all were very welcoming and helpful, but there was just something missing,’” he said. “So we’re trying to find out what are the blocks that impede them.”

Topics:

  • dominican university
  • catholic colleges
  • colleges and universities

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