SAINTS PERSPECTIVE, SCCC President Brad Bennett
Hispanic Heritage Month 2022 began on Sept. 15 and runs through October 15. It’s a big deal for us at Seward County Community College. Hispanic heritage is so important to our students and the community we serve. Being federally designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution, it is at the core of what we do and who we are.
But our relationship to Hispanic Heritage is about more than celebration. It must involve a deep understanding, and a commitment to include voices from the Hispanic community — which we need to view as also our community — in the conversations that drive change and make decisions.
To get to this point, we have to “do our own work,” as people often say. For instance, I am not a person of Hispanic origin, and so I am aware that there is a lot I don’t know. Instead of relying on my impressions of what Hispanic culture is, or my own life experiences, I need to ask a lot of questions. I need to be willing to notice when I am putting myself in the focus point instead of focusing on the students around me or the employees who are Hispanic and have insights I am likely to miss.
Obviously, learning more about Hispanic culture involves more than just enjoying our amazing local restaurants from Mexico and other Latin-American cuisines or knowing how to say “gracias!” I hope that our Saints family can continue to work harder on this skill set and get better. We have already made a great start.
Over the past few months, the college has been hard at work to form its new strategic plan for the next three years. Several parts of this process reflect the desire to be diverse and inclusive, especially in regard to the Hispanic population. We set up focus groups to gather information, and besides including one specifically for Spanish-speaking community members, we also invited Hispanic-identifying individuals and groups to take part in multiple sessions, including our Full Strategic Team.
In the end, everything the college does is focused on student success, which eventually translates into community-building. With a lot of our students in the “Gen Z” category, we know that this age group needs a direct, personal involvement in order to buy in to pretty much anything. They have to believe in a thing personally, see that it impacts them, and have a sense of ownership and investment if they are going to dive in and get involved.
With that in mind, it’s amazing to see the revamped and re-energized HALO club on campus. HALO (which stands for Hispanic American Leadership Organization) is a national group that works to empower Hispanic American youth with community service, training, and a sense of belonging. Our HALO club was sponsored for more than a decade by retired Saint Patsy Fischer and the late Frances Brown. For most people, HALO might be what they associate with the American Red Cross blood drives on campus. It’s a vital service to the greater community in Seward County.
This fall, SCCC employees Erika Espinoza and Karla Morales Escarcega took on sponsorship of HALO, and immediately recruited more than 50 members. It's clear that our Gen Z students do indeed have a sense of personal connection and ownership. The club has big plans to get involved in campus life, seek out training and student-support programs, and, of course, continue those blood drives.
We are so grateful to Erika and Karla for mentoring and encouraging the students in HALO. And, we can’t wait to see what results as the students progress through college and leadership development.
One of the goals Dr. Todd Carter focused on when he served at SCCC was the idea that Hispanic students shouldn’t have to give up their sense of cultural pride in order to succeed — they shouldn’t have to “be more Anglo” in order to get good grades, be seen as intelligent, or find high-status jobs. We continue to build on those ideas, with a personal twist: those of us who are Anglo, while also keeping a sense of cultural pride, should do our part to get to know and appreciate our Hispanic friends and neighbors, especially within the Saints family.
In the end, we are all in it for the long run, and Saints stick together. So, during Hispanic Heritage Month, along with the jalapeno-eating contest, the great meals, and the programs designed to honor Hispanic-Americans of excellence, I hope we will all learn a little bit more.
Go Saints! ¡Adelante, Santos!