When first-year student Marcelo Torres decided that he wanted to come to the University of Oregon, he wanted a “home-y” place.
“I’m from Houston, Texas, so there’s a Mexican basically anywhere you go,” said Torres, who is majoring in philosophy and economics, during early move-in. “I’m from Mexico originally, and I just wanted something ‘home-y’ — people I know, a culture I already understand and respect and people who are more like me.”
The Latinx Scholars ARC, or academic residential community, is the newest of the five residential programs in the recently renovated and rebranded Justice Bean Hall, which also houses the Health Sciences and Environmental Leaders ARCs, among others.
Latinx is a gender-neutral umbrella term that broadly refers to “Latin-Americans (regardless of country of origin), Mexican-Americans, Central Americans, Chicanx, or Hispanics,” according to the Latinx Scholars ARC webpage.
The ARC, open to Latinx students and those strongly connected to their communities, comes as an effort to increase the historically low retention rates of the school’s Latinx students, said Rosa Chavez-Jacuinde, the associate director of the UO Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence.
“Graduating in four years is only part of it, but what's your experience in your four years?” Chavez-Jacuinde said. “Like, sure, I can graduate in four years, but I'm going to be miserable and not make any friends or not have any internships, or not really practice what I'm being taught or meet new people or go out of my comfort zone, and that's not really a college experience.”
As of fall 2018, about 12% of students at the University of Oregon are Hispanic or Latino, according to university data. The number of students who identify as Hispanic or Latino has been rising since 2008, when just under 4% of students were Hispanic or Latino, according to UO’s latest equity and inclusion report.
The idea for the ARC came from the Latinx Strategy Group, a collective of faculty, staff and students that works to improve educational access and equity for Latinx students at UO. Chavez-Jacuinde, who is also one of its members, said that she wants the ARC’s students to see that everybody struggles, “even students who seem like they've got 4.0’s.”
“Our central message is that they have a community here, that they have a home here, that they belong here, that they can succeed here, that they don't have to do it alone,” Chavez-Jacuinde said. “It's a community to help you navigate those pieces on your way to graduation.”
The ARC’s thirty-some students will take classes in history, ethic studies and Spanish. Michael Hames-García, an ethnic studies professor who will be teaching a class that’s specific to this ARC, wants students to leave his class with the sense that their knowledge and experiences have value.
“In any class, really, you have a diversity of experiences and relationships to the subject matter,” Hames-García said, “and it’s really about building a lesson plan from students’ interests, from those experiences, and using them to guide where the class goes.”
In his classes, Hames-García will often bring in items or present theoretical problems to the class, asking them how they would each approach an issue.
Some of the ARC’s students have grown up in immigrant communities, Hames-García said, while others have lived in predominantly white communities. Others may identify as Afro-Latino, not speak Spanish or not have “a strong sense” of Latinx culture.
“There’s never one point of view or one way of approaching an issue. It always starts from multiple perspectives, because there are multiple perspectives in a classroom,” Hames-García said.
Wendy Echeverria Garcia, a first-year Latin American studies and ethnic studies student, wanted to connect with people who share her culture and heritage.
“My culture is something that I really like to embrace,” Garcia said, “and it’ll be nice to share it with other people who have similar backgrounds.”
Half of the class of 2014’s students of underrepresented ethnicities graduated within four years, while 60% of its white students did. The underrepresented ethnicities category includes students who are Black, Hispanic, Latino, native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander or Native American.
For junior Jorge Torres, the new ARC is a chance for him to meet other Latinx people in Eugene.
“We’re used to having a lot of Latin community down in Texas,” said Jorge Torres, who is studying advertising. “This is a great opportunity to make connections and feel like we’re in a community.”
— Anna Mattson contributed reporting to this article.