New Faces at Pacific University

Alfonso Lopez-Vasquez, the University’s director for diversity, found a lot to smile about at Pacific’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration this past January. Some 250 people, both from the community at large as well as Pacific, joined the festivities with a march from Rogers Park to Marsh Hall where they remembered the slain civil rights leader’s courage and commitment to equality. (Photo by Heidi Hoffman)

Cultural metamorphoses are occurring in the U.S., and Pacific University's demographics follow suit. Students, faculty, staff and alumni—along with various partnerships and programs—see positive changes.

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The numbers speak for themselves. Thirty-nine million people of Latin-American descent now live in the United States. Native-born and immigrant Latinos have eclipsed all other ethnic minorities in numbers, economic clout and influence.

In Washington County, Latinos comprise one-fifth of all residents. A population once consisting of migratory agricultural labor is rapidly transitioning to settled middle-class status. Talented entrepreneurs are changing the face of business, and creating new jobs and opportunities.

While the University’s response to these sweeping changes may seem muted, a closer look reveals that Latino faculty members, students, alumni and various partnerships and programs are having a profound and positive impact on the institution and the community it serves.

Evidence may be seen in relationships with local nonprofits Adelante Mujeres, which partners with the Center for Gender Equity to teach literacy and a GED course to Latinas, and Centro Cultural, whose board is chaired by Assistant Professor of Education and Director of Community Partnerships, Alfonso Lopez-Vasquez. The Centro Cultural connection is longstanding, with students participating in internships, research and service programs.

Latino influence has shaped the expansion and scope of the Spanish curriculum, now the University’s largest language program, and faculty activities. Professor Victor Rodriguez, a native of Puerto Rico, works with the I Have A Dream Foundation, which provides scholarships for minority students of low income. In fact, a recipient, Jorge Mandujano ’13, now a junior at Pacific University, has played on its championship soccer team. Professors Nancy Christoph and Mariana Valenzuela also bring Latinas to campus for a popular Spanish-language literature course.

Pacific’s College of Optometry partners with the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Clinic, a nonprofit that provides primary care to migrant, seasonal workers. Outreach Coordinator Susan Littlefield oversees programs that provide valuable vision screening services on-site at area farms and winery work camps and Migrant Head Start facilities. The College also participates in the Consulate of Mexico’s Bi-national Health Week.

Much activity takes place at the Health Professions Campus in Hillsboro. There, Virginia Garcia’s Hillsboro Clinic operates in concert with the University’s professional healthcare programs. Students in the Schools of Pharmacy, Dental Health Sciences and the Interprofessional Diabetes Clinic gain experience working with Latino and minority populations. Clinic patients benefit from quality, affordable health care provided in a state-of-the-art facility, according to Virginia Garcia Clinic Manager Vicki Pedraza ’84.

The School of Professional Psychology includes a Latino Bilingual Track (LBT) in its curriculum. Students cluster their training to focus on culturally appropriate assessment, diagnosis and treatment of Latino Spanish-speaking clients. Founded by Dr. Robin Shallcross, the LBT is administered by Dr. Lucrecia Suarez, a native of Venezuela. Doctoral student Ainara Echanove ’14 recently became the first Pacific student to earn a coveted scholarship from Oregon's Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber.

With increasing numbers of Latinos in Washington County, Pacific is stepping forward to fill the growing demand for a multicultural higher education option. A comprehensive Latino initiative is under consideration that would broaden and integrate the University’s commitment to ethnic, economic and diversity curriculum, enabling it to assume a leadership role in this area and in the global educational marketplace.