Engaging the Community during Hispanic Heritage Month

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The community college at which I teach is designated a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), which means that at least 25% of our students are Hispanic. Many of our students are first-generation college students making it imperative that we provide a curriculum that affords them an opportunity to explore their cultures as well as examples of people from their communities who have been successful in their professional pursuits. Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 to October 15th, is a great time to review our courses and extracurricular offerings to ensure that we are meeting the needs of these valued members of our academic communities.


This past summer our Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council reached out to the Rhode Island Latino Arts (RILA), a statewide cultural institution, to connect with a Dominican-American filmmaker. Alberto Genao grew up only five miles from our campus in one of the communities from which many of our students graduate high school. He visited campus last week to share his work in documentary and narrative filmmaking, as well as his efforts to document the Dominican and Colombian communities in our state.


Students had an overwhelmingly positive response to Genao’s visit and his message encouraging them to network in both their home communities and the collegiate environment. Having a professional filmmaker show students music videos he has made with performers in the Caribbean was motivating and inspiring, allowing them to see the possibilities that exist beyond the boundaries of their neighborhoods and the success of a man with a shared socio-economic background. Many of the students in the room during Genao’s talk could identify directly with his upbringing and the familial and cultural challenges he faced as he pursued a non-traditional career path. 


Anyone in the Macmillan Community looking for an engaging speaker to connect with students during Hispanic Heritage Month, is encouraged to reach out to state cultural organizations such as RILA who can introduce students to speakers with whom they can directly identify. Just as we want students to see themselves reflected in a diverse teaching faculty, community members’ participation on our college campuses can present valuable role models for our students as they navigate the challenges of higher education.

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About the Author
Suzanne K. McCormack, PhD, is Professor of History at the Community College of Rhode Island where she teaches US History, Black History and Women's History. She received her BA from Wheaton College (Massachusetts), and her MA and PhD from Boston College. She is currently at work on a study of the treatment of women with mental illness in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century Massachusetts and Rhode Island.