Pablo Mendoza, MU’s director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, dropped three large boxes and a black MU banner on a handcart. Student volunteer Jesse Berrios took the initiative and began carting the boxes out onto the street. The sound of a mariachi band on the street below resonated in the parking garage as Mendoza and Berrios walked into the bustle of Kansas City’s 12th Street for the annual Fiesta Hispana.
The recruiting had begun.
Fiesta Hispana, which was Sept. 13-14, is a yearly celebration of Hispanic heritage in Kansas City, which currently has the highest concentration of Hispanics in Missouri. Several other colleges at the fiesta persuaded passers-by to pick up information both in English and Spanish. Southwest Missouri State University boasted a Hispanic population rivaling MU’s, although the Springfield campus has almost 10,000 fewer students overall. The University of Missouri-Kansas City offered pamphlets in Spanish about its School of Nursing and information on Hispanic-specific scholarships.
MU, on the other hand, had nothing Hispanic-specific to brag about, save some information on AHANA, a minority journalism program for high school students. MU explored the idea of publishing recruiting materials in Spanish, but the idea stopped short because of budget cuts.
As the Hispanic population of Missouri doubled in the past decade, the Latino population at MU barely increased, from 1.1 percent of the student body in fall of 1992 to 1.5 percent in fall of 2002, with 259 and 390 students, respectively.
Meanwhile, MU’s African-American student population is growing more rapidly. In fall of 1992, 870 African-Americans were enrolled, or 3.7 percent of the student body. A decade later, the black population at MU numbered 1,351, which was 5.2 percent; white students accounted for 85 percent of the total student population.
It might have something to do with the way MU representatives recruit.
“We need a Hispanic recruiter to recruit more Hispanics. We need materials written in Spanish,” said Mendoza, who is Filipino and does not speak Spanish. “We need concentrated recruitment efforts if we would like our population to increase.”
Whereas schools such as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have minority-specific advisers and recruiters, MU employs Mendoza to assist in recruiting all types of minorities.
The reasons for this discrepancy go far beyond recruiting, however. They go to the heart of the issues facing Latinos in America today:
The United Ambassadors, the minority student recruitment group, tries a variety of approaches to recruitment such as phone calling, e-mail, postcards, students’ panels and Clue-N-2-Mizzou, an overnight program where students stay with a host student to get a taste of the MU experience.
One of the cited reasons that more African-American students choose the school is that they see more people like them actively recruiting, Rieves says.
Establishing a critical mass of Latino students would greatly help in the effort to recruit Hispanic students to the school, Rieves said.
“I think that time is going to be the ultimate solution,” Rieves said. “When African-Americans first started attending college, it was one or two on a campus at a time. And over time the numbers grew. Statistically, Latinos are increasingly enrolling in higher education institutions, which means that in years to come, it can be expected that their numbers will also increase to a larger mass.”
Eric Wilson, theater professor and former retention coordinator at Academic Retention Services, agrees that as time goes on, a larger critical mass of Hispanic students can develop at MU.
“A larger critical mass is a positive and could help recruitment,” he said. “However, if the critical mass doesn’t have a positive experience, then it doesn’t do any good. All students regardless of ethnic background have specific needs, and if they are not truly addressed, any support received becomes a cookie-cutter approach to solving the problems. What is good for student A will not necessarily work for student B.”