When I was in college, I noticed that I was almost always the only Latino male in the room. There weren’t that many Latinos to begin with, but every time there was a gathering, there were always more Latinas.
I noticed the same thing as a graduate student.
It was something that I immediately celebrated, considering the long history of discrimination against women of color in education both in the United States and in Latin America.
It also made me think about some of the reasons why more men of color like myself weren’t going to college at the same rates of Latinas.
What had happened to all the boys of color like myself who had began with the same opportunities as the young women of color in elementary school? Had something happened along the way?
Reflecting on my experience made me look up statistics about the disparities that currently exist between Latinas and Latinos in higher education. According to the National Center For Education Statistics, 18.6% of all Latinas will earn a Bachelor’s degree from a university, in comparison to 13.1% of all Latino males.
There were similar percentages for Master’s and Doctorate programs, particularly in the social sciences.
These numbers made me think about my experience as well as the experiences for other young boys of color who, like me, grew up in environments that didn’t always foster educational success.
Boys like me were often ridiculed for knowing the right answer in class and bullied by the older kids. Some of the brightest kids I knew were often beat up for being exactly who they were: brilliant and full of promise.
It made people not want to participate in class for fear of being picked on.
But thinking about those unfortunate experiences also helped me realize that the bullies were also products of complex home and community situations. They were the victims of an environment that criminalized their bodies and made them believe that violence was acceptable.
A conversation about the lower number of Latino males in universities has to, however, begin with a conversation about what educational opportunities haven’t been available for women like my mother in countries like Mexico and others. It’s also a conversation that can happen while simultaneously celebrating the achievements of Latinas who continue to overachieve despite the barriers that exist.
I grew up hearing stories of Mexican machismo culture and how it limited the opportunities that women like my mother had in Mexico. Young women like her were being told that their only role in society was to get married and have children. It’s the reason why my grandmother saved money to send my mother to the U.S. during her teenage years. She couldn’t bear the idea of seeing one of her daughters fall victim to abuse at the hands of men and be neglected of educational opportunities.
And it paid off because years later she would enroll in a PhD program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
It’s true that young Latinas and Latinos often navigate the same systems of oppression, but sometimes — some studies have shown — there’s certain experiences that might be contributing to the problem of lower college enrollment for Latino males.
According to researcher, Marcus B. Weaver-Hightower, the issue for lower Latino male college enrollment rates potentially stems from larger societal issues including a “pipeline problem.”
“Boys have significantly lower literacy scores than girls,” Weaver-Hightower wrote in a 2010 education magazine, titled, “The Magazine of Higher Learning,” which, he writes, indicates, “weaknesses in crucial skills for getting through high school and succeeding in college.”
“Fewer males than females are taking and passing college preparatory courses, and fewer are actually graduating from high school,” he continued.
His article raised an important point, but exhibiting lower literacy rates and not passing college preparatory courses didn’t fully help me understand the reason for lower college enrollment rates.
Perhaps there was potentially a larger issue at play?
Doing well in school for me was almost associated as a form of weakness when I was growing up. It wasn’t seen as “masculine” to get good grades in my school or community. More importantly, what if the young boys and men who I went to school with were unfortunately associating doing well in school as non-masculine?
Weaver-Hightower somewhat agreed and asked a similar question when he wrote that there’s a certain male “image” in our society that exists throughout our society.
“The “mook” image of males,” that exists he wrote, “are crude, rude, childish risk-takers has become ubiquitous in reality television, television commercials, sitcoms, music, and on the Web.”
Weaver-Hightower’s theory was also aided by higher rates of Latino and African-American male army recruitment and the growing prison industrial complex, which also affects women but continues to disproportionately impact young men of color at higher rates.
According to the federal bureau of prisons, as of 2017, 93.2% of all inmates are men, which could potentially impact the numbers of Latino males and college enrollment.
Still, these numbers only help to partially explain the reasons why there are potentially more Latinas in higher education then there are men. They do, however, help us understand that there’s an entire world of context and information that accompanies an issue that is extremely multilayered.
Statistics and reports can only tell part of the story. But in the mean time, it’s best to continue to celebrate the achievements of the Latinas who continue to defy barriers that have been put to keep them from succeeding as well as find more ways to help young boys navigate a world that doesn’t want to see them succeed.