Auraria Campus hosted “unapologetic” leaders during the 21st Annual Women’s Leadership Conference in the Tivoli Turnhalle on March 10.
The keynote speaker of the event was Prisca Dorcas Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a writer and blogger who founded the online organization Latina Rebels, which empowers young Latinas. Her speech
recognized some difficulties of being a person of color and how difficult it was to get to where she is today.
Rodriguez attended public schools in Miami and lived in a neighborhood of immigrants. She had a learning disability and went to public schools that didn’t have the resources to help her.
“I didn’t have anyone to build me up and tell me to dream big,” Rodriguez said.
Counselors and teachers advised her against joining Advanced Placement classes in high school because her parents were not fluent in English and wouldn’t be able to help with the homework. Rodriguez said they thought she wasn’t going to succeed.
Many young Latinos have experienced similar barriers to educational opportunities in the U.S., despite being the fastest growing ethnic group in the country. This crisis is multifaceted. Lack of funding for English as a second language classes is cited as the primary educational barrier according to the National Education Association. Language and socio-economic differences tend to lead to inferior education and, according to a 2005 study by the NEA, only 11 percent of Latinos went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 34 percent of their white peers. The growing Latino population, specifically in states like Texas and Colorado, underscores the importance of improving their educational opportunities.
MSU Denver announced its initiative to become a Hispanic Serving Institution in 2005. As of 2015 the university had increased Hispanic enrollment from 12.5 percent to 20.3 percent and hopes to continue supporting Hispanic students’ educational success through degree attainment. Despite her struggles, Rodriguez fought to do well in school. Proving naysayers wrong, she was able to go to college.
“The sense of displacement is real when you’re a woman and you’re brown,” Rodriguez said. “It took a lot, and I cried a lot, and it’s a miracle I made it out alive.”
Eliam Mendez, an attendee of the event, had a lot to say in response to Rodriguez. Mendez is bilingual in Spanish and English. She is currently working towards becoming a court interpreter.
“The only thing I feel like I’m useful for are my bilingual skill,” Mendez said. “I love what I chose as a career, and I’m glad I can be successful by speaking two languages, but there is so much more to me than being bilingual.”
Like Rodriguez, Mendez highlighted the struggles she faces in the world as a person of color.
“As a woman of color, Prisca makes me feel empowered,” Mendez said. “It’s hard to be taken seriously when you are a minority trying to make it in the educational and professional world.”