They may be out, but they aren't down. Even though La Asociacion Cultural de Estudiantes Latino Americanos and El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan pulled out of the United Minorities Council last semester, they are still fighting to have their voice heard on important issues affecting Latino students on Penn's campus. The split with the UMC, an umbrella organization of minority groups, occurred last April during a UMC meeting on the same day the organization was to vote on whether to make its agenda more political. All of the Latino members of the UMC walked out of the meeting, and then-Vice Chairperson Tania Castro, now a College senior, resigned her newly elected seat. According to the Latino Coalition, which consists of ACELA and MeChA, this split took place because the UMC was not political enough and the University did not take the groups seriously. Although the UMC will not represent Latino interests, it will continue to support the Latino groups, according to its leaders. "We are all still in the battle, we're all still in the fight," said UMC Chairperson Charles Howard, a College junior. In fact, Howard said the split had a positive impact on the University by serving as "a wake-up call" to the needs of its Latino members. Although MeChA and ACELA still have the UMC's support, they are struggling to have their demands met while having to deal with problems of their own, such as low membership. Among these demands are more extensive and effective recruitment for Latino students and faculty. Latino students currently make up about 3 percent of Penn's undergraduates. According to MeChA President and College junior Milady Nazir, the University doesn't do enough of the recruiting itself, and groups like MeChA are forced to sponsor recruitment efforts using their own resources. "We want to get to the point where that's not necessary, where we ourselves don't just have to rely on our own resources as students to go out and recruit," said ACELA President David Villafana, an Engineering senior. Admissions officials, however, say they have stepped up minority recruitment over the past few years as part of University President Judith Rodin's Minority Permanence Plan, which calls for increased recruitment and retention of minority students and faculty. Rodin, meanwhile, said she would not comment on any of the Latino groups' specific complaints because they have not yet brought them to her. And recruiting Latino students isn't the only problem; making sure they graduate is another. Latino students still face low graduation rates because of financial and academic problems, Latino leaders say. According to Nazir, a Latino resource center -- which was one of the demands MeChA made -- would be one way of addressing the problem. "If we have teachers be more accessible to us, have like a one-on-one mentoring program, that would be really beneficial," she said. Meanwhile, these groups are facing their own set of internal problems, which include low membership and a lack of funding for events. For example, MeChA currently has only 10 members, two of whom are Medical School students. According to Nazir, this has partly to do with a lack of funding for events. "I think that if we don't have activities? then it's difficult to attract members, because people just don't want to go to meetings; they want to get something out of it," she explained. Some Latinos don't want to focus exclusively on their ethnic group in a diverse setting like Penn. For example, Nursing senior Jimmy Rodriguez said he came from a highly concentrated area of Mexican-Americans and went to Penn "for the diversity." Despite these problems, the groups have won greater recognition from the University. According to Nazir, administrators are more accessible to them now since their split from the UMC and are taking them more seriously. "I think they're sincerely trying to attempt to meet our goals," Villafana said. "I don't think they're attempting hard either, but they're doing something."Comments powered by Disqus
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