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Latino presidents face additional challenges

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Patricia Granados, president of Triton College, had to overcome perceptions that she would narrowly focus on Hispanics at her college.

Photo: Triton College (Illinois)

Leading a community college is a stressful, demanding job, but it can be even more challenging for Latinos, who say they’ve had to overcome additional layers of obstacles on their paths to the presidency.
 
Patricia Granados, a member of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) board of directors, said she never imagined that she would be president when she started working at Triton College (Illinois) as a part-time administrator to help cover her tuition 28 years ago.  
 
As the college’s first Hispanic president, Granados had to fight people’s perception that she would be narrowly focused on Hispanics by proving she was inclusive and eager to embrace diversity.
 
Anna Solley, president of Phoenix College in the Maricopa Community Colleges system (Arizona), spent a lot of time building trust and pulling the college together after the chancellor appointed her to replace a well-liked predecessor. That required a lot of listening and engaging people in discussions, said Solley, who also serves as presdient of the National Community College Hispanic Council (NCCHC), an AACC affiliate.
 
Carlos Soto thought it was going to be a “cakewalk” when he was named president of the Brandon Campus of Hillsborough Community College in Florida after working at a large university. But there was a "credibility gap" because he didn’t have a similar background to previous presidents, Soto said.
 
“It was not so easy,” he said. “It took me a while to think like an administrator rather than a faculty member.”
 
Handling prejudice
 
Richard Duranpresident of Oxnard College (California), a member of the AACC board of directors and president-elect of NCCHCmoderated a discussion on these issues at a session during the recent AACC annual convention. He asked panelists how they deal with prejudice.
 
Click here for information on AACC’s 2012 Leadership Programs, which begin in June.
Soto said that when he hears something derogatory, “that makes me question if it could be true or if I can ignore it. Is there a reality to that or am I imaging it?”
 
“I've never really seen myself as a Latina,”  said Granados, preferring to focus instead on a lesson instilled by her parents: “You are doing a job and you need to do it well.”
 
But there were times, she said, “when I was introduced as president, and people seemed shocked. That was a bit off-putting.”
 
“If I hadn’t been Latina, I probably wouldn’t have been hired,” said Solley, noting that the then-president had a commitment to hire more minorities. Now, she has to fight the perception among some Latinos that she is “too Latino,” while others “say I’m not Latino enough.”
 
When asked how they promote leadership opportunities for others, Soto said he appoints promising colleagues to committees.
 
“Doing that consistently puts them in a position to be noticed,” he said.
 
Granados starts at the middle-school level by talking to students about leadership and serving as a role model for them. In addition, she noted that Triton has a year-long grow-your-own leadership academy that serves 25 employees annually.
 
Phoenix College has a leadership symposium for 500 students and showcases Latino trailblazers in college publications and at an annual celebration, Solley added.
 
Ensuring diversity
  
A member of the audience asked the panelists how a college can become “more accepting and appreciative” of diversity in the face of a rapidly increasing Hispanic enrollment “when the institutional culture is not there.” Duran suggested integrating that goal into the college’s strategic plan. Solley added, “Your faculty must reflect the population you serve.”
 
Sometimes, college leaders face instructors and staff who don't align with a college's strategic plan to ensure diversity. 
 
“There are certain attitudes we can’t have in an institution, or the atmosphere becomes toxic,” Soto said. Ninety-nine percent of his faculty love the students and love teaching, “but that 1 percent could become a distraction.”
 
When that happens, Soto draws the line.
 
“Sometimes we just have to tell people to get a grip,” he said. “I’m not beyond telling a faculty member, ‘We’ll provide resources to help you deal with it, or you have got to go.'”
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