Building the First Latinx Educational Midwest Conference at the University of Iowa

The first University of Iowa College of Education Latinx Educational Excellence in the Midwest Conference was held October 20 – 21, 2017. The genesis for this conference came as a result of nine Latinx graduate students in the College of Education convening to discuss the lack of courses offered regarding Latinx Education, the lack of representation of Latinx faculty and staff, and limited available mentors for Latinx students. From this meeting, the Latinx graduate students drafted a letter to the Dean of the College with the aspiration of organizing an event that would bring greater awareness to the College of Education and larger community regarding educational issues that impact the Latinx community in the Midwest. Following a successful meeting with the Dean Dan Clay, and with his enthusiastic support, the student group met with the College of Education Diversity Committee, chaired by Dr. Jason Harshman, Assistant Professor of Social Studies and Global Education. During an initial planning meeting with Dr. Harshman, the main objectives for the Latinx Educational Excellence in the Midwest conference were created: (1) Connect with Latinx scholars and faculty across the Midwest to learn what research was being done on and with Latinx students and communities;  (2) Provide resources and professional development for K-12 educators working with Latinx students; and (3) Offer sessions for community members, organizations, and agencies in Eastern Iowa.

The Latinx Educational Excellence Midwest Conference was held in connection with the 19th Annual Latinx Youth Summit sponsored by the University of Iowa Center for Diversity and Enrichment (CDE). The Latinx Youth Conference hosts Latinx high school students on the University of Iowa campus and offers sessions on the high school to higher education transition. The past eighteen Latinx Youth Conferences have had a Professional Development Institute that focused on sessions to develop skills for Latinx Professionals ranging from higher education to local government agencies. This year, the College of Education volunteered to host the Professional Institute for the local community and add a Latinx Educational Excellence in the Midwest Conference that focused on research by students, faculty, and community activist-practitioners across the Midwest.  The 19th Latinx Youth Conference was held Wednesday, October 18, 2017, and was geared toward Latinx high school students and their teachers. The conference provided professional development and opportunity to share research by educational professionals, K-12 teachers, undergraduate and graduate students, and the greater community. The collaboration brought greater visibility to both events and created opportunity for University of Iowa staff who work outside of the College of Education to participate as session presenters during the Latinx Conference. Organizers for both events met on a monthly basis beginning in Spring 2017 and throughout the summer to discuss keynote speakers for each event and financial sponsorship.

The two-day Latinx Education Conference began with a book panel event on Friday, October 20, 2017, in the Old Capitol Museum on the University of Iowa campus. The panel, which was open to the public, included a speaker sponsored by the local League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council, Dr. Jason Daniel-Ulloa from the University of Iowa College of Public Health. Following Dr. Daniel Ulloa’s remarks on the history and contributions of LULAC in Iowa, Dr. Claire F. Fox (University of Iowa), Dr. Omar Valerio-Jiménez (University of Texas—San Antonio), and Dr. Santiago Vaquera-Vásquez (University of New Mexico)—editors of the volume The Latina/o Midwest Reader: The Latina/o Experience in a Changing Midwest (2017)—facilitated a one-hour discussion on the essays included in the volume. The book panel was followed by a question and answer session and a reception in the main hall of the Old Capitol. Approximately fifty people attended the event, including UI faculty members, UI administrators, fellow presenters at the Latinx Conference, members of the community, and UI students. This book panel was the first organized on behalf of the University of Iowa College of Education that focused on Latinx experience in the Midwest.

panelists speaking before audience at conference on The Latino Midwest
Photo of panel featuring Editors of The Latino Midwest Reader. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Latinx Educational Excellence in the Midwest Conference convened on Saturday, October 21, 2018. Approximately one hundred and thirty undergraduate and graduate students from regional universities, faculty members from the University of Iowa, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Western Illinois University, and other Midwest institutions, K-12 teachers, and local Iowa City Community attended. The conference began at 8:30 a.m. with a plenary speaker, Mr. Dan Stevenson, a teacher in the West Liberty School District (a school district that is majority Latina/o and that supports a bilingual curriculum for all students). Conference sessions were organized according to three tracks: higher education, K-12 education, and community. Presenters included faculty from local and regional institutions of higher education, area schools, undergraduate and graduate students from the University of Iowa and regional institutions, and community leaders and activists.

Keynote speaker, Dr. Adele Lozano from the University of Wisconsin—La Crosse, spoke about Latinx issues in higher education, with particular emphasis on the purpose of the conference: the Midwestern United States. The afternoon session continued with research in higher education and K-12 classrooms, public policy analysis, K-12 classroom application (i.e. curriculum and teaching), and community programs. One major theme that arose from the sessions was the recognition that the Latinx population in the Midwest is often overlooked by the greater U.S. society, the local institutions of higher education in the Midwest, and by the non-Latinx community. This conference was a first in the college and for the University: members of the Midwestern Latinx community organized and were the main focus of a conference that focused on research, education, community activism, and how to maintain a collaborative approach to organize future events. Additional information regarding sessions and presenters can be found here: https://education.uiowa.edu/events/latinx-educational-excellence-midwest-conference

The conference ended at 5:00 p.m. with a social meeting for attendees to discuss what was learned during the day and what steps need to be taken for a future Latinx Conference. Discussion centered on action steps needed within institutions of higher education and how to bring more visibility to Latinx needs and accomplishments, particularly what the University of Iowa can do. The group meeting ended with ideas for a second Latinx Educational Conference to included the institution’s higher-level administrators to present at the conference and to add more sessions for the Latinx local community.

A second College of Education Latinx Educational Excellence in the Midwest Conference is being planned for fall 2018. Next year’s conference will be expanded to involve more collaborations between additional departments across the university and region.  If you are interested in being part of this event, please send an email to: coe-latin-conference@uiowa.edu

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Carla Gonzalez is a doctoral candidate in Educational Policy and Leadership Studies program at the University of Iowa. She received her Masters Degree in Education with a TESOL certification from Western Illinois University. She is an experienced college-level instructor. Her research interests include the history of educational experiences of Midwestern Latinx in pre-K-12 and higher education, the development and enrichment of Latinx studies programs, and Latinx women in education. She is currently researching the history of Chicanx student activism at predominantly white institutions in the Midwest during the Chicano Movement.

Jason Harshman is Assistant Professor of Social Studies and Global Education in the University of Iowa College of Education. His international teaching experiences include time in South Korea, Japan, Spain, and Turkey, with Turkey including extensive research and professional development on global education in secondary and higher education. Dr. Harshman’s research examines the intersections of place, citizenship, and identity, as well as teaching and learning for global competence in K-12 and teacher education. He is the co-editor of the 2015 volume Research in Global Citizenship Education.

Photos courtesy of Carla Gonzalez and Jason Harshman.

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