hispanic faculty fernandezThe Office of Equity & Diversity has begun discussing the possibility of creating a Hispanic/Latino professional organization for faculty and staff.

José Fernández, Ph.D., associate professor of nutrition sciences and director of diversity outreach for the Office of Equity & Diversity, recently met with a group of Hispanic and Latino faculty that unanimously supported the creation of the association and developed a strategy to move in that direction.

“There is representation of Hispanic/Latino faculty within the university, but there is no formal organization that provides an opportunity for the faculty self-identified as Hispanic/Latino to work to improve recruitment and retention of staff, faculty and students,” Fernandez says. “We’re in the very early stages. We’re just trying to create some visibility.”

A recent meeting provided a platform for the Hispanic/Latino faculty to explore an association that can work for the best interest of the Hispanic and Latino community, which is growing at UAB.

“We identified a subcommittee to look at this in detail, gather information to develop general objectives or goals for the organization and develop a potential plan of action that will be submitted to the Office of Equity and Diversity,” Fernandez says.

The number of UAB faculty who identify themselves as Hispanic/Latino is 88, Fernandez says, and the number of Hispanic students applying, being admitted and enrolling at UAB climbs steadily each year.

More than 275 Hispanic students applied to UAB as undergraduates in fall 2011, up from 134 students in fall 2007, according to Enrollment Management. Graduate student applications also are on the rise, to 122 in 2011 from 61 in 2007. Exactly 200 Hispanic students were admitted to UAB as undergraduates in 2011, up from 35 in 2007. Of those 200 admitted, 93 enrolled, which is a significant increase from the 25 Hispanic enrollees in 2007.

Several Hispanic/Latino initiatives have been undertaken through the years, including Manos Juntas, the Hispanic/Latino mentoring program; S.A.L.S.A., the Spanish and Latin Student Association; and the Spanish Club.

Fernandez says the fact that these groups already exist on campus is a big step and falls in line with one of the objectives a professional Hispanic/Latino group would have — to make sure the overall environment of the university is positive.

“There are some initiatives that have been created in the past six to seven years to be able to provide a welcoming environment to the students,” Fernandez says. “Our organization will hopefully be able to provide a welcoming environment to the professional workforce at UAB.”

A committee has been created to research other academic institutions to gather information about existing Hispanic/Latino faculty associations in the United States. The members of the committee include Maria Descartes, Thamar Solorio, John Mesa, Rachel Mazer-Gurmendi, Patricia DeVilliers, Mary Boggiano, Leandra Celaya in the Department of Health Services Administration, Roberto Mayoral, Giuseppe Squadrito and Michael Crowe.

For more information on the initiative, contact Fernandez at jose@uab.edu.