Close to Home: Make a commitment to Latinos at Sonoma State
Remote learning, school shutdowns and historical barriers were a one-two-three punch to Latino students across California and here in Sonoma County. We need look no further than an August 2020 viral photo of two Latino elementary students from a farmworker community found sitting outside a Taco Bell in order to access the free Wi-Fi so they could complete their remote learning. While the initial outcry caused by the photo may have died down, the barriers Latino students face are still present today — both in and outside the classroom.
Latinos comprise almost half the enrollment in Sonoma County’s K-12 public schools. Before the pandemic, Latino high school graduation rates and college enrollment numbers had steadily increased. Today, after sustained and disproportionate learning loss, the chasms of inequity have widened for Latino students. Without intervention and strategy, they will face powerful barriers to opportunities for generations to come.
In 2020 and 2021, the U.S. Department of Education designated Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University as Hispanic-serving institutions, allowing them to receive supplemental funding to help bridge the achievement gap. These institutions serve 67% of our nation’s undergraduate Latinos and help make higher education a reality, enabling them to secure a better future for themselves and their families. Hispanic serving institutions are instrumental in providing more Americans, especially low- and middle-income students, with the opportunity to thrive in institutions of higher learning.
These efforts have worked for years, but recent crises have dealt a blow to Latino students. Latino enrollment grew 48% from 2009 to 2019 but decreased 7% from fall 2019 to fall 2021. At community colleges, the decline was more than twice that amount.
Sonoma State is seeking a new direction as it faces continued and significant enrollment declines and a multimillion-dollar budget deficit. With the recent resignation of its president, our community has a unique opportunity — and imperative — to ensure that the next president is not just committed, but is a commitment, to reducing disparities and improving the educational system for all students, and particularly for the North Bay’s growing Latino population.
As children of immigrants, we know firsthand that representation matters. Growing up, we recognized ourselves in the faces of grocery store workers, farmworkers, vineyard workers and in the many other essential jobs our immigrants fill, but we rarely saw ourselves represented among our government, community or business leaders. And while that has changed a little, it still falls very short of what one would expect, given our current demographics.
Over the next year, the California State University trustees will be searching for a new president for Sonoma State. It is vital for our future our increasingly diverse community that we seek to widen the circle of opportunity for all students, particularly those who have historically not had the same opportunities as their peers. It is time to both educate and inspire our Latino students and show them that there is a place for them not only in the classroom, but in Sonoma State’s office of the president.
Equity cannot be left to chance. We therefore urge the CSU trustees to ensure that SSU’s next president has a demonstrated commitment to lifting Latino and other students of color out of poverty and also reflects the diversity of North Bay’s most vulnerable students.
The American dream has evaded too many Latinos for too long. Please join us in writing to the CSU trustees at email@example.com, and urging them to select a candidate who has a demonstrated commitment to Latinos and other communities of color.
Pedro Toledo is chief administrative officer of Petaluma Health Center. Samantha Rodriguez is the vice mayor of Rohnert Park.
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