Latino Life at Harvard

With a small undergraduate community, a dearth of Harvard role models and no place to call their own, Hispanic students are saying that the College can do more to improve...

When asked about their experience at Harvard, Latino students' replies share one common theme: the College does not measure up to other schools.

"A lot of people just say, `I should have gone to Stanford or UCLA,'" says Lilia Fernandez '95, the president of Raza, Harvard's Mexican-American student group.

These schools have Latino faculty and Chicano and Latino studies courses, as well as larger Latino student communities, she says.

Richard Garcia '95, who was recently elected as Raza's next president, says that after seeing the resources available to Hispanic students at other Ivy League institutions he "doesn't understand where Harvard has been for the last 20 years."

Yale has a dean for Chicano affairs and centers for all minority groups, he says, and most of Harvard's Ivy League peers have multicultural centers where Latino students can feel at home.

Many Latino students interviewed yesterday echoed the statements of the student leaders, saying that throughout their student careers, they confront bias in various forms.

"I have encountered a lot of biases and prejudices...they are very subtle," says Fernandez.

For instance, Veronica Rosales '94 says that a student, hearing her speak, asked her what country she was from.

Rosales says the person must have been thinking, "she looks different, she has an accent, she must be from another country.'" Rosales turned around and told the questioner: "Texas."

Rosales says she has encountered patronizing attitudes from her peers, but answer them with pride in her origins.

"I don't feel ashamed of my background at all and you don't have to feel sorry for me," she says.

Other students say they have encountered more blatant and offensive forms of prejudice. Fernandez says, for example, that a friend of hers received a patronizing note from the grader after being given a low grade on the paper.

The grader had told the friend, who was born in the U.S., that since "English is a second language for you," she should not worry about the mark, says Fernandez. The teaching fellow had made that assumption based on the student's Spanish surname, she says.

Another student says he experienced overt prejudicial comments from fellow students his first year at Harvard.

Efrain Cortes '94, the president of Puerto Rican student group La O, says a student once asked him, "So, you're a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. How did you get here?'"