The South needs you!
Jason Mendez and Juan Carrillo say they immediately connected in an environment in which they felt few understood their experiences growing up in urban, working-class Latino families. Mendez identifies as Boricua and grew up in the South Bronx while Carrillo is of Chicano heritage and hails from the barrios of Los Angeles.
“When I first came to North Carolina, I felt isolated in the academic community,” says Carrillo, an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill whose research looks at the identities of academically successful working-class Latino males. “It seemed like Latinos were hidden behind trees — it became so much harder to find communities where Latinos were out and about, engaging in public spaces.”
Carrillo says that changed when he met Duke Education professor Mendez, who he bonded with over not only work but over their east and west coast roots, music interests and trash talking about the Knicks and Lakers.
He noted that although much attention has been paid to rapidly growing Latino populations in the South, sometimes dubbed the “New Latino South.”
What has garnered relatively little discussion is the representation and treatment of Latino faculty.
Nine of the top 10 states with the fastest-growing Latino/a populations from 2000-2011 were located in the South, according to a Pew Hispanic Trends Project. North Carolina experienced a growth of 120%.
But Latino faculty representation at Duke and UNC, two of the state’s premier institutions, remains under the 4% national average reported by the National Center for Education Statistics.
The percentages of Latino faculty at Duke and UNC, respectively, stand at 2.1% and 3.8%, according to diversity reports released in 2013 by the two schools.
“It felt like I had been hired by the Program in Education to be a diversity statistic,” says Mendez, who held a two-year visiting appointment as a professor in Duke’s Program in Education. “In a workplace like that, it was a challenge not just being the only Latino faculty member, but actually the first faculty of color ever to be hired in the program. I spent two years either being silenced or treated as ‘the help.’”
Mendez, whose contract with Duke was not renewed after spring 2014, described the atmosphere within his department as “unsupportive and resistant to change.”
He says the connections he formed with his students, though, were a bright spot during his two years — citing student activism as a critical piece to creating more open, inclusive communities.
Mendez’s research, in particular, includes studying activism in academia, race and equity in public schools and Puerto Rican identity construction and representation.
Now, Mendez, currently a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, has also cofounded a company he plans to launch this summer, Sons of the Boogie, with the goal of creating a space to fuse modern pop culture, hip-hop and social advocacy work in the South Bronx.
Carrillo, who says his experience with UNC’s administration has been generally positive, also emphasized the importance of mentorship relationships — noting that he, too, benefits from his bonds with students.
“The challenge is that institutions tend to hire people who look like the people who are already in them,” Carrillo says. “Our goal is to change that mindset, and to not just increase the numbers, but also to increase the range of experiences that come with faculty diversity.”