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At UMass Chan event, QCC president examines plight of Hispanic-Americans

Luis Pedraja: ‘Work together to be more inclusive and remove the barriers that prevent some from achieving success’

On Thursday, Oct. 14, at the UMass Chan Medical School virtual event, Quinsigamond Community College President Luis Pedraja, PhD, brought Hispanic Heritage Month to a close with his talk, “The Other Pandemic: Systemic Racism and the Latinx Community.” Dr. Pedraja said the lack of access to quality health care, education and resources has long been a barrier to the well-being of Hispanic-Americans, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Luis Pedraja, PhD

For Pedraja, understating the plight of Hispanic-Americans means first understanding who they are. He talked about the varying names the community is called: Hispanic, Chicano, Latino, Latinx and Hispanic-American.

“How do you tell which one to use?” Pedraja asked. “We must give people the liberty to choose how they want to identify. When we name others, in a sense, we are doing an act of violence because there is power in a name and a name controls the other.”

Hispanics are not a monolithic people; they are an ethnicity that encompasses many races with varying cultures that have shaped the fabric of the United States, he said.

Pedraja’s talk named the ways COVID-19 exacerbated the already present barriers Hispanic-Americans face in their everyday life. He noted that during the height of COVID- 19, Hispanics suffered from high unemployment, stress due to living in close quarters and lack of childcare when children were out of school. Such factors lead to increased dropout rates, particularly among Hispanic males. Disparities in health care, particularly the lack of trust patients have toward doctors and the lack of cultural competency by health care professionals, often magnify health problems.

Despite these daunting issues, hope comes from celebrating what has been done to make the Hispanic population visible and what more can be done, he said, adding that an increased sense of awareness of the gaps happens each time the issues are named. Activism and advocacy are renewed, and solidarity grows. Pedraja encouraged taking on a posture of learning, flexibility and the spirit of community to move toward the future.

“We have to work together to be more inclusive and remove the barriers that prevent some from achieving success,” he said.

Pedraja encouraged dialogue and self-education also as important factors that bring about hope and change. He suggested working with the UMass Chan Medical School community to create a think tank of diverse faculty, allies and colleagues interested in supporting Hispanic-Americans in the institution.

Marlina Duncan, EdD, vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, who recently established AALANA, a faculty of color network at the Medical School, affirmed that “it would be great to include other institutions in that community.”

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