Sam Houston State University
University at Buffalo
University of Arizona
Gary Santos Mendoza
Florida Atlantic University
In 2014, the Latinx Network (LN) introduced the LN Writers Group to promote writing and publishing as ways to convey our members’ experiences and knowledge. In this article, we share our experiences as founding members of the LN Writers Group. We have seen our group grow into one actively contributing to the student affairs literature. By using the cultural tradition of testimonios – where our personal stories create an empowering collective consciousness (Espino, Vega, Rendon, Ranero, & Muniz, 2012), we depict how our lived experience as student affairs practitioner-scholars have been impacted by struggles, aspirations, and eventual successes with writing and publishing. We have learned the importance of writing as a professional skill and have created a supportive community to navigate the publishing process to share our stories and knowledge. We start with the conceptual frameworks that guide our group’s purpose. Ricardo provides a brief introduction to the LN Writers Group shared as the first testimonio. We follow with our testimonios describing how writing and publishing is demystified by our involvement with the LN Writers Group. From our collective stories, we offer advice for those looking to initiate a similar initiative for their entity groups.
Frameworks Guiding Our Group
The experiences of Black and Brown higher education and student affairs professionals can be challenging at times, especially when employed at historically white institutions and being one of very few People of Color within a student affairs division, experiencing what Harper (2013) has coined as “onlyness.” Due to the nature of higher education and student affairs professional staff roles requiring them to be resources of support and encouragement to students, often times our members also need a space(s) that is supportive of their personal identities and professional growth. Existing literature suggests that People of Color (POC) in college environments find themselves struggling to find belongingness (Haywood, 2017; Strayhorn, 2012), forced by whiteness ideologies and practices to “fit in” as actors in a play set in American higher education (Nguyen & Duran, 2018), and oftentimes experience feelings of isolation (García-Louis, 2018). Therefore, to guide our writing group we draw from the workings of scholars whom have conducted research studies with Communities of Color in mind. Yosso’s (2005) social and navigating capital within community cultural wealth (CCW) and Solorzano, Ceja & Yosso’s (2000) counter-spaces provide frameworks that best explore experiences told through testimonios presented by members within the LN Writers Group.
Yosso’s (2005) CCW conceptual model emerged from the workings of critical scholars who center their work on asset-based framing of historically marginalized communities (i.e., Gloria Anzaldúa, Gloria Ladson-Billings and Paulo Freire), and was first introduced to educational researchers to challenge pre-existing interpretations of cultural capital for Latinx individuals and other POC. The CCW model includes different forms of knowledge capital (i.e., aspirational, navigational, social, linguistic, familial and resistant capital) that POC attain from their communities and homes. CCW aims to recognize the generations of knowledge and resources POC have utilized to survive, adapt, resist, and thrive in racist institutional social structures (Perez Huber, 2009). For the purposes of this article, we focus on the familial and social capital tenets proposed by Yosso (2005).
Familial capital is the “cultural knowledges nurtured among familia that carry a sense of community, history, memory, and cultural intuition…and models lessons of caring, coping, and providing (educacion)” (Yosso, 2005, p. 79), and social capital refers to the networks and community resources POC use for instrumental and emotional support to gain access to college, navigate through, and persist towards graduation (Yosso, 2005). The members of the LN Writer’s Group often mention they find a sense of familial-type community from sharing cultural intuition, knowledge, and experiences with other LN Writing Group members. Through group writing exercises and activities to explore feelings and ideas together, our members validate each other’s lived experiences and cultural insights with a sense of care. Additionally, our members use their collective social capital to network with the others in the group to speak and write about their own experiences as POC in higher education and work together to navigate the writing process to produce articles for publication.
The second framework we believe is appropriate and analogous with the testimonios of our members is counter-spaces. Arzubiaga, Brinkerhoff, and Seeley (2014) assert that socially produced spaces are those where people act, and that the social production of space takes place in ideologically and politically bound landscapes.” (p. 92). The narratives shared with our testimonios highlight both objective (e.g., virtual meetings and conference presentation spaces) and socially produced forms of comforting and supportive spaces as part of their experiences with the LN Writers Group. We refer to these affirming spaces as counter-spaces. Solorzano, Ceja & Yosso (2000) state that counter-spaces “serve as sites where deficit notions of People of Color can be challenged, and a positive collegiate racial climate can be established and maintained” (p. 70). Counter-spaces also allow POC to foster their own learning and nurture an environment that is supportive wherein experiences are validated and viewed as vital knowledge (Solorzano & Villalpando, 1998).
The group provides guidance and mentorship to move ideas to implementation and has assisted greatly by creating a supportive writing environment while simultaneously creating a (mostly) virtual space for networking. Understanding that some higher education institutions have formal and/or informal staff and faculty groups for People of Color (i.e., Faculty of Color Coalition and LGBT+/Latinx Faculty & Staff Association), not all do. As Nguyen and Duran (2018) noted, affinity spaces for higher education and student affairs staff of Color can be “places of healing, rejuvenation, and kinship to allow us to continue our work and share experiences with others” (p. 118). We believe the LN Writer’s Group has acted as such a space for its members.
Our testimonios highlight how we perceive the LN Writers Group meeting spaces, working groups and other affiliated initiatives, to be brave counter-spaces used to speak about issues of injustice and other problems Latinx students and staff face on college campuses, in addition to being spaces that offer us opportunities to learn and grow with like-minded and culturally affirming individuals. LN Writers Group creates an affirming counter-space outside our respective campuses.
Ricardo’s Testimonio – Starting the Latinx Network Writers Group
Since its establishment in 1987, ACPA’s Latinx Network has provided the association and the field of student affairs valuable insights on the Latinx experience in higher education. I have been a member of ACPA since 1992 and have found my professional home within ACPA’s Latinx Network. As one of the more “seasoned” members of LN, I have seen LN’s legacy of strong engagement within ACPA’s commissions, chapters, and coalitions. In addition to this engagement, I have seen LN support our members’ interest in proposing and presenting workshops for professional development. For over 30 years, LN has provided topics at the annual convention and other settings to educate and inform colleagues on Latinx concerns in the field. As Latinx representation and engagement within the profession of student affairs continues to grow, we as a Network believe our knowledge should reach well beyond our convention audiences.
My idea of creating a group came after the ACPA 2013 Las Vegas Convention, where I and seven LN members provided four interconnected sessions addressing Latinx college student organization involvement. We were interested in finding publishing outlets to share their collective knowledge on the topic immediately after Vegas. I led this effort as LN’s research liaison and with my encouragement, committed my colleagues to find a publishing opportunity. Soon after convention, a call for chapter proposals was announced that was a good match for our conference presentations. Working collaboratively, we eventually published a chapter on “Latina/o Students and Involvement: Outcomes Associated with Latina/o Student Organizations” for the edited book, Student Involvement & Academic Outcomes: Implications for Diverse College Student Populations (Mitchell, Soria, Daniele, & Gipson, 2015). The published chapter planted a seed within the network to cultivate more member interest in writing and publishing in student affairs.
The LN Writers Group was rolled out at ACPA 2016 Montreal Convention. I volunteered to be the coordinator of the group, which fell under my directorate role as research liaison and my new career switch as a tenure-track faculty member in a graduate preparation program. The first cohort of the LN Writers Group consisted of 10 members. Since 2016, we have tripled our number and continue to actively promote writing as a professional skill and seek new members.
I see the group as a helping define what it means to be a practitioner-scholar, where writing is viewed as an important part of professional career development in student affairs administration.
The LN Writers Group is founded on the idea that writing and publishing our collective knowledge provides a powerful tool to promote advocacy and empowerment for our members. The goal is to create a supportive practitioner-scholar community to help others through the writing process. Through monthly meetings, group idea sharing, and collaborative writing projects, I want the LN to be an active contributor of innovative ideas and vital scholarly research in student affairs. With this goal, members can also start breaking down myths and uncertainty that they cannot publish. In doing so, my aim is to make publishing not an unattainable task, but one that is reachable to strengthen voices of our members. My LN Writers Group colleagues have contributed new knowledge to the student affairs profession.
Stephen’s Testimonio – Writing in My Voice
After being presented with the opportunity to co-author a book chapter on the academic outcomes associated with college students engaged in Latinx-based campus organizations, I knew that I wanted to develop my writing skills even further. Soon after that piece was published the ACPA Latinx Network directorate announced the new LN Writers Group initiative would commence in 2015, and I was one of the first to eagerly sign-up and participate. Having a scholar-practitioner lead the group, who was also well versed in Latinx issues in higher education, has been a very pleasurable experience for a variety of reasons – he has a vast amount of experience in student affairs as a senior-level administrator working with diverse student populations, in addition to having and sharing with the group his publication experience as a current faculty member. The chair of the group has provided the guidance and mentorship needed to move the team from ideas to implementation and has significantly assisted with creating a supportive writing environment while simultaneously creating a (mostly) virtual space for networking, collaboration and workshopping with other scholar-practitioners from around the nation.
Initially, I joined the LN Writers Group because I yearned for a supportive space to workshop ideas with colleagues who share similar cultural, research, and educational interests, but I have received much more than that. I have always had insecurities about my academic writing (something I believe many in the academy often struggle with) but after reading a book introduced to the group that highlighted the notion of being okay with the “shitty first draft” (Lamott, 1995), I began feeling more confident in writing in a variety of different styles and not putting so much added pressure on myself. The writer’s group has opened up a part of my mind that I previously did not recognize was creative, and as a result of my active membership and participation in the LN Writers Group I have had the opportunity to present at ACPA-College Student Educators International’s annual conference on my experiences with this initiative, writing, and workshopping ideas with attendees. As a current Ph.D. candidate, this group has provided a gateway to explore publishing opportunities, talk through the publication process via a variety of outlets, and share my writing and conference presentation ideas with other members to receive valuable feedback.
The LN Writers Group has definitely assisted with demystifying the writing and publication process for me – by making me realize the importance of writing in my voice, recognizing that not every publication avenue values or is deserving of my story and those from historically marginalized groups, and honoring the process of writing in collaboration with others from the “shitty first draft,” revise and resubmits, to the final product, the publication itself. In relationship with my doctoral degree training, I have learned about many critical theories and non-deficit ways of writing about marginalized communities (e.g., critical race, LatCrit and Community Cultural Wealth), which have allowed me to best highlight the experiences and narratives of my co-researchers (commonly known as participants) I have the privilege to work alongside. I will forever be grateful and appreciative of the gained knowledge, community, support, and the diverse frameworks I have been introduced to via this writing group.
Karla’s Testimonio – Fighting the Imposter Syndrome
As a Latina and first-generation college graduate, I never imagined I would be publishing or presenting at national conferences. When I joined the ACPA Latinx Network, I quickly felt a sense of community and belonging, something I had been looking for in my professional organization engagement. The year I became involved, the Network started the LN Writers Group. I joined thinking I would learn some tips and tricks to writing as I was beginning my doctoral journey and working full time as a professional in the student affairs field.
When people start saying they wanted to publish, I was in shock. I did not think I could write something good enough to ever be published or to present at a national conference. Most of these feelings come from always feeling like an impostor; like maybe, I am not supposed to be here or I am not good enough to be here. Feeling like an impostor is something I have struggled with throughout most of my educational career.
I was unsure of how to even begin to publish a piece and had no guidance as to how to develop ideas to submit for conferences or publishing opportunities. I have realized that in this profession, we just assume that someone will be taught how develop these ideas or that they will learn them on their own. Very rarely have I seen folks learn to write or develop ideas in a more formal setting. Even as a doctoral student, my program has not offered many ways to assist in my development in this area. When they have, it has mainly been a student led effort. Part of the reason I joined the LN Writers Group was because it was the only space I could get support and resources.
I have learned quite a bit from being in the LN Writers Group. I have been able to learn strategies to write and develop ideas, I co-authored a chapter, and have had 3 national conference proposals accepted. Having a space where I can be my authentic self and have the support of other Latinx in student affairs has helped me feel less like an impostor. I have learned that I am a scholarly-practitioner and that what I have to say matters.
Gary’s Testimonio – Voicing My Communities
For me today, writing still triggers feelings of uneasiness, with an excitement to tell a story. When I entered graduate school, despite years of being told my writing was not good enough, support and my confidence was needed in order to overcome this fear, hence the finding of the ACPA Latinx Network Writers Group. Before finding this group, my condition of imposter syndrome strongly followed me through higher education spaces, especially those where writing took center stage. However, as a first-generation, cisgender, queer Latino male, this perspective existed in the realm of higher education, writing became the vehicle towards exhibiting my chronicle. I joined the writers’ group to have the opportunity to exchange my thoughts and experiences through writing, specifically to showcase the understandings toward my corresponding marginalized communities. Another reason for joining, was the lack of professional development I was receiving as a college administrator.
At the time when I joined, I was an Assistant Director, unless I became a full Director, my professional development opportunities as a student affairs administrator were non-existent. Having the additional identity as a Ph.D. student on top of my professional position, I knew in order to be a scholar-practitioner required professional and academic development, the LN Writers Group provided a space for me to expand on writing and learn professional development skills. Lastly, joining this group exposed me to the opportunity to publish my storyline. I am pursuing my Ph.D. through the Educational Leadership program under the Department of Educational Leadership and Research Methodology program at Florida Atlantic University. My Ph.D. program is credited toward providing academic foundation and avenues to produce writing, but the writers group enhanced the opportunity to prepare me in academic transcribing. The group itself, demystified the approach of the writing process through the leadership of Dr. Montelongo. He was able to consistently provide us ideas and opportunities towards publication, including an easiness toward approaching writing and confidence to discuss our narratives. Presentations at national conferences, an upcoming book chapter, and a future publication, all on my own as a scholar-practitioner, was made possible because of my involvement in this group. The LN Writers Group prepared me to not be afraid to write your shitty first draft (Lamott, 1995), that can later evolve to phenomenal work.
Recommendations for Practice
From our testimonios – our collective consciousness as founding members of the LN Writers Group – we offer the following recommendations for colleagues interested in promoting writing and publishing as a tool of empowerment for practitioner-scholars. First, honor the lived experiences of the members first. This can be via writing practices about personal stories/journeys, or even simply asking what brings them joy and pain? We also believe if a group has members from cultures that have been historically marginalized, time is needed to learn about the backgrounds and passions of your members, the populations in which their writing will advocate and support, and appropriate outlets for them to write in ways they feel are most expressive to them. For example, in addition to academic writing, different formats of expression can include portraits, paintings, comics, and poems.
Second, we believe a writers group should constantly seek out presentation and publishing opportunities. As our testimonios stated, for some of us there was almost no support to use writing as professional development and we had to look outside our institutions to find places to develop and learn this skill. We also learned a great deal by co-authoring and co-presenting with others who have gone through the process before. By having a support system and dedicated group to demystifying the publishing process, we learned not only about ourselves as writers, but also connected to others who have had similar challenges or who were willing to assist and mentor us. We would also remind others that your voice matters. That to fight against the dominant narrative, we have to use our voices to uplift our familias.
Lastly, identify committed members that are as excited and focused to bring contributions towards storytelling. Another thought is the intentional strategy to establish and grow a writers group is to include graduate students, especially those who from diverse and disadvantaged populations. Literature and research have proven that spaces of academia historically were not made for these populations (Espino et al., 2012; Harper, 2013; Solorzano & Villalpando, 1998; Yosso, 2005), in return, you provide a space of support and a learning opportunity to discover the unique narrative of these scholars. Lastly, the imposter syndrome is real. However, writing is a blessed privilege. Your story is important to the future of our profession and it is needed, now more than ever through your narratives.
ACPA’s Latinx Network Writers Group is an example of how the association can foster and enhance the professional experience of student affairs professionals of color. Our profession has not avoided the many “-isms” that is apparent in higher education. Our Network has provided a professional familia for our members to seek comfort and support, but most importantly to become empowered to work for change and social justice within our field and in our services provided to college students. Using writing and publishing as a strategy to create this change, the Latinx Network has enhanced the familia within the group by supporting a skill that is truly valuable for practitioner-scholars. In challenging and inspiring members to set writing and publishing goals once thought to be unachievable, we have found a powerful way to deflate the imposter syndrome affecting scholars of color and other minoritized and oppressed student affairs professionals. Fighting the inner voices that say you are not capable of publishing has been defeated via our LN Writers Group. Our voices are being heard, seen, and respected. Using the power of the pen, we have built a collaborative community to make this a reality.
- What other forms of capital factor into a student affairs professional’s writing or publishing aspirations? How might they use different forms of capital to engage or not engage in the writing process?
- How can spaces for writing be created that allow practitioner-scholars from historically underrepresented or marginalized populations opportunities to reflect on their experiences in the profession?
- Testimonios are powerful tools that can be used to dismantle the dominant narrative in higher education. Are there other ways testimonios may help with healing?
Karla Cruze-Silva is currently a doctoral candidate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education and serves as the Senior Manager for Student Success at the University of Arizona. Karla has served as the ACPA Latinx Network Awards Co-Chair since 2017. Ricardo Montelongo is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at Sam Houston State University. He served as co-chair of the ACPA Latinx Network 2011-2013. Stephen Santa-Ramirez is a Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State University and an incoming Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University at Buffalo. Stephen has served on the ACPA Latinx Network directorate as the Culture Fest Liaison, Advocacy Co-Chair, and Mentoring Co-Chair. Gary Santos Mendoza is a Ph.D. candidate in the Educational Leadership and Research Methodology program at Florida Atlantic University. He serves as the Director of the Intercultural Resource Center at Rutgers University-Newark. Gary has served on the ACPA Latinx Network directorate as Advocacy Chair, Education Chair, and Regional Representative.
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