Get Minority Students Involved!

While the importance of doing well in school is known to minority students, the significance of doing extracurricular activities is not.

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By the time students enter high school, they have been told about the importance of doing well in school. One thing that is missing, especially in minority populations, is emphasizing students to be involved in extracurricular activities. I believe that getting minority students involved will help them get admitted to college and will help them get through college and do well after they graduate.

Ever since I was five years old, I wanted to play on a soccer team. It was not about being involved, I just wanted to play because I loved the sport. However, my parents did not sign me up anywhere. In fact, as I got older, they vetoed any activity that I wanted to be a part of. Cub Scouts, Chess Club, they did not let me join anything. Sadly, this is the norm for minority families. It is not culturally normal to do activities outside of home with people the parents do not know. There is a lack of trust of strangers and parents would prefer their children helping out around the house. Another issue is that the student may be asked to find work to help support the family. Although minorities know the importance of doing well in school (or should), they do not know that it is not enough to get into college. Students who are admitted are typically well rounded, who do well in class and are a part of extracurricular activities. 

I was not allowed to join any activity until high school. My freshman year, I joined the soccer team. And it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I got to play the sport that I love, made several new friends, and I learned a lot. I did not just learn about soccer, but I learned how to interact with others in a non-school setting. I was used to being quiet in class and doing my work, and had to adapt to being on a team and working with others. I also became more socially aware and confident around new people.

After the season ended, I realized that I wanted to be more involved, but I knew I could not do it after school. Then I realized that I could do activities during school so that my parents could not prevent me from doing them. This strategy ended up working well: while my options for activities were limited by this, I still managed to find activities that I liked without needing to ask for my parents' permission.

By the time I was a junior, my parents were at odds with me being involved. They did not understand why I was doing activities that did not involve school, occasionally telling me to quit. I said no and continued to be as involved as I could within my restrictions. When I started applying to colleges, my parents realized that I was right about being involved, but they still could not figure out why colleges wanted involved students.

My parents were not the only ones who did not understand this. A few weeks before graduation, I was invited to a dinner to honor the Latino students who were about to graduate and I decided to attend. While there, I talked to a few Latino students that I knew, but what struck me was just how many of the Latinos I did not know. I realized that this was because I was the only male minority in AP classes and the most involved minority in school. No other Latino was involved in multiple activities and I was the only one with a definite plan in terms of going to college. I felt weird: I was standing in a cafeteria with other Latino students and had never felt so alone.

A similar thing happened in college. In my junior year, I was coming into my own, becoming more involved and making a name for myself both with the students and the staff. One way this occurred was through a partnership with our library and athletic department. The library wanted to put up posters of fall athletes wearing their uniforms and talking about their favorite childhood books. I immediately volunteered, and a few weeks later, my poster was up in the library. One day, I was cutting through the library to go to class, when the head of diversity called me over. He was leading a group of high school Latino boys and they were standing by my poster. The boys look at me, and then the poster, and realized that I was the person on it. They looked at me like I was an icon, which made me uncomfortable. I did not feel like I deserved that attention: I had an okay GPA and was decently involved, but I had friends who had much higher GPA's and were more involved than me. I did not think I was the right role model for Latino students. But the more involved I got that year and the more I took up leadership positions on campus, I realized that I was usually the only minority to do so. Unlike me, most minority students do not live on campus and only go to class, and then go home. Then, they say that they do not feel like they belong on campus, and end up leaving. The ones who end up being involved feel alienated from their own background and constantly feel like they are representing their race all the time.

One way of possibly addressing this issue is during parent/teacher conferences: have a teacher of a universal subject (English) ask what the student is involved in, stress the importance of being involved, and if possible, offer a few suggestions. During college, academic advisors can ask the same thing to their students.  Another way is to recruit members for clubs/sports in classes like English or social studies so that students of all backgrounds get the information.

Getting minority students involved in high school and college is important. They will gain important skills not taught in the classroom and will be able to highlight these skills while applying to college. Being involved in college will connect the students to the campus, give them ways to be leaders, provide them an extra support network, and expose them to new opportunities for the future. Stressing the importance of being involved to families is critical. Doing well in school alone will not get students to college or make them want to stay; but being a part of groups that they are passionate about can make a world of difference.


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Photo of Dan

Thank you for sharing, Rodolfo.  Your post already has me thinking about some what ifs for the ideate phase -- and I'm really hoping you'll be a part of that mojo around here too.  In particular, I'm locked into your comment about minority families and trust -- how difficult it is for parents to trust advisors, coaches, etc.  in terms of extracurricular activities.   How might we design a means of advisors/coaches to meet with those parents in a way that aligns with the cultural norms for that family?  It seems like a big barrier to overcome but one that may well be worth it -- question mark?

Photo of Rodolfo

Personally, I think it's more of a go-to-them situation that needs to occur.  It's time consuming, but the only way of guaranteeing contact with them.  And I will be in the ideate phase too; don't worry!

Photo of Dan

I completely agree with the go-to-them philosophy.  How might we identify the barriers to "going to them" and authentically weight them against the barriers of "them coming to us"?  I think education too oft defaults to "invite them into our space" and fails to recognize the associated pressures and weight of that approach.  This is coming from someone who has taught all his career in a rural area, whose school just got a major renovation, and now finds parents and community members even more intimidated by the place than they were before.

Photo of Rodolfo

I have no idea; I'm thinking of it as more of a numbers game.  If I go to them, there is a higher chance I can reach them than if I ask them to come to me.

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