Opinion: Why doesn’t NYU celebrate Latine workers’ and students’ contributions during Hispanic Heritage Month?

NYU would not be able to function without Latine staff and faculty. From servers in dining halls to administrative workers, the university relies on the Latine community and must do more to uplift it.

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Manasa Gudavalli

NYU students protested when former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe Vélez was invited to speak at an NYU event about sustainability and climate politics. NYU is not doing a sufficient job of acknowledging the contributions that the Latine community has made to the university. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

By Lorraine Olaya, Copy Chief

NYU loves to brag about its diversity. But the institution fails to appreciate the value that students, faculty and staff from diverse backgrounds and identities add to the NYU community. 

Many low-income, Latine students are accepted through the Opportunity Programs at NYU. These students, such as myself, are tokenized by NYU’s marketing schemes, but when it comes to creating a welcoming environment and celebrating our accomplishments, NYU falls short. 

NYU displayed utter disregard for Latine students, faculty and staff when former Colombian president, Álvaro Uribe, was invited to speak at an NYU event about sustainability and climate politics in May 2020. As president, Uribe encouraged violence against Colombian protesters. His corrupt administration also used death squads to kill union organizers and farmers. Despite the immense backlash NYU received, the university did not cancel the event. 

Recently, NYU has not done enough for Latine students during Hispanic Heritage Month. Few university-wide events have been held, leaving smaller departments, organizations and clubs within NYU to find their own ways to celebrate the many global Hispanic cultures. 

NYU’s inability to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and Latine accomplishments is appalling considering how much NYU relies on the Latine and Hispanic communities. From dining hall workers in Downstein to academic advisors, counselors and administrators at the Academic Resource Center, people from the Latine diaspora are found across NYU. As of 2020, 15% of full-time faculty and staff fall under the Hispanic/Latino category. This is a significantly low percentage compared to the 50% of full-time faculty and staff that are only white. However, this does not take into account the employee demographics of NYU Eats. Those employees are hired through Chartwells, which is owned by Compass Group and recognized by Forbes as one of the best employers for diversity. Without these employees, NYU’s dining halls would not function. 

While NYU Eats is holding events that celebrate the accomplishments of Latine chefs, there should be a university-wide acknowledgment of the contributions the Latine community has made to NYU. In particular, there should be an emphasis on uplifting Latine scholars. 

Due to the underrepresentation of Latine people in academia, it is crucial for Latine students to see people who look like them in spaces of higher education. As of 2020, 24% of Hispanic adults hold a college degree, an increase from previous years. This dwindles in comparison, however, to the 46% of non-Hispanic white adults that graduated college with degrees. NYU can commemorate the accomplishments of the Latine and Hispanic people by celebrating academics who have been successful in their fields, featuring faculty and staff from the Latine diaspora and holding events geared towards supporting the academic success of Latine students. 

NYU should do more for Hispanic Heritage Month, but the work should not stop there. Integrating Latine history and literature into the university’s core is especially important. NYU’s core classes are diverse in certain aspects; but in my three years at NYU, I have barely been exposed to Latine writers and Latin American history in a classroom setting. Our stories and voices are significant and valuable and they need to be included in mandatory classes. 

As a predominantly white institution, NYU must create an environment that celebrates the accomplishments of their diverse students, staff and faculty. What better place to start than by acknowledging Hispanic Heritage Month and commemorating the Latine community that the university relies on?

Contact Lorraine Olaya at [email protected]