University of Southern California


Working with our neighbors to build a strong community

Latino groups discuss education gap


The Latino/a Social Work Caucus, in collaboration with the Latino Graduate Student Association and El Centro Chicano, hosted its annual event in celebration of the holiday of Dia de los Muertos on Tuesday.

This year, the topic of the Dia De Los Muertos event was Latinos in Education. Speakers discussed the “death” of education that many individuals in the Latino community face and highlighted the barriers that Latinos experience in their personal lives and professional work in their pursuit of higher education.

“The goal is to educate our fellow USC students about the struggles and to discuss solutions that may help bridge the gap from the minority communities and public schools towards Universities like USC,” said Joanna Burga, a graduate student studying social work and one of the organizers of the event, in an e-mail to the Daily Trojan.

Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, refers to the holiday that is celebrated throughout Latin America and is most strongly associated with Mexican culture. The festival is celebrated from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 every year and honors the deceased by celebrating with food, drinks and activities that they enjoyed in life. The holiday recognizes death as a natural part of the human life and experience; therefore, the dead are invited to celebrate and take part in the festivities.

The organizing committee, in order to meet the event’s goal, wanted to include individuals who had worked with education in the Latino community in various levels. The panel discussion featured Monica Garcia, LAUSD School Board member; William Vela, director of El Centro Chicano; and Carlos Ruiz, a master’s student studying social work.

“We reached out to Billy Vella because we know that through working in El Centro Chicano, he is highly connected with the undergraduate Latino students at USC interested in linking those students with other Latino students who are in graduate and Ph.D. programs to promote higher education as well, which we think is important,” said Jon Vales, co-chair of the Latinos in Social Work Caucus, in an e-mail to the Daily Trojan.

Data has shown that Latinos comprise more than 38 percent of the California population, but they attend college in the lowest numbers compared to other ethnic groups. The Latinos in Social Work Caucus wanted to address this issue with the panelists they chose for the event.

“It was important for us to be able to have dialogue with someone who was one of the main players in the Los Angeles Unified School District: Monica Garcia was another person that we thought would add another element into this discussion as she actually is an alumni from the USC School of Social Work,” Vales said in an e-mail to the Daily Trojan.

The event began with the ceremonial blowing of the conch to welcome the ancestors, followed by the welcome song. The audience interacted with the panelists and put forth an array of questions regarding the education system, obstacles and how to overcome them successfully. Panelists discussed the ways of overcoming obstacles students face in education. The panelists felt that by reducing the number of students in a school and increasing the number of schools, the attention a child gets from his or her teacher might improve, resulting in better quality education. Members of the audience expressed that attending USC would open a new world to them.

The participants also celebrated the festival by putting up pictures and mementos to honor people who had died. The audience included Latino students, graduate students and many students from the social work department.

“Celebrating Dia De Los Muertos is a way of thanking the ancestors who enrich our lives,” said Paul Maiden, executive vice dean of academic and student affairs at the School of Social Work, at the event.

The altar arranged by the students as a part of the festival is available for viewing in the El Centro Chicano office in the Student Union building.