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Latina education panel features Napolitano, others and draws protesters

By Naheed Rajwani

Dec. 2, 2013 10:08 p.m.

Amid chants from protesters Monday evening, University of California President Janet Napolitano, actress Eva Longoria and other prominent members of the Latino community participated in a panel about Latinas and their educational prospects.

The event was held in the Korn Convocation Hall and focused on “Making Education Work for Latinas in the U.S.,” a report about Latinas and their chances of success in education that was co-sponsored by the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, the California Community Foundation and the Eva Longoria Foundation.

“I think most people who agree that education is a critical civil rights issue of our time. … Without education, Latinas, Latinos and other minorities are left on the margins of society,” said Patricia Gándara, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

The Civil Rights Project conducts research and sponsors events about civil rights issues.

Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco, dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, moderated the panel, where participants shared their personal experiences as Latinas in the United States.

“I have been really blessed to have access to amazing role models. … I come from a family of educators that stressed the importance of (education),” said Longoria, whose family has resided in the U.S. for generations.

Antonia Hernández, president and CEO of the California Community Foundation and a UCLA alumna, said she thinks it is important to help women access quality education and to support them as they pursue their degrees.

“It you want to improve the quality of life for families, you invest in women and if you look at philanthropy around the world … a lot of the work was focused on women,” she said.

Research done for the “Making Education Work for Latinas in the U.S.” report shows that Latinas are more likely to be successful educationally if they have Latino teachers and counselors as mentors, and are involved in extracurricular activities.

Discussions about the Latino community were, at times, overshadowed by chants and stomping from outside the auditorium. The aim of the protest was to draw attention to the number of undocumented individuals who were deported while Napolitano was secretary of Homeland Security, said fifth-year international development studies student Antonio Elizondo, one of the organizers of the protest.

A few protesters were also present in the audience and briefly interrupted the discussion. One protester stood up in the audience section when Suarez-Orozco asked Napolitano to share her own perspective on education.

“What about the millions of Latinas who have been deported?” one of the protesters asked.

Both protesters called on Napolitano to resign and continued asking questions regarding her work as secretary of Homeland Security before she was appointed as UC President earlier this year.

The protesters were escorted outside the auditorium and the discussion continued, although protesters outside the auditorium continued chanting throughout the event.

Napolitano said she was there to offer her insight to discuss how the UC can build a bridge for Latinas as the representative of the University of California system, not to discuss what it’s like to enforce a law and what it’s like to improve it.

“She’s the president of the University of California. She’s not the head of immigration enforcement anymore,” said UC spokesman Steve Montiel.

Montiel added that Napolitano has tried to meet with students and hear their concerns during her visits to UC campuses.

Still, some of the protesters said they do not think Napolitano has done enough to address their needs or respond to their calls for her resignation.

Some protesters said they did not think that Napolitano should have been on the panel because of her past as the secretary of Homeland Security.

Audience members included prominent Latinos such as Calif. Sen. Ed Hernandez and labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta.

Huerta said she thought Monday’s panel affirmed what she already knew, but appreciated that it was held on a college campus so other members of the community could also learn about the Latina experience.

“Some of these issues are kind of swept under the table – these students are living through them,” Huerta said.

Contributing reports by Alex Torpey and Kai Huntamer, Bruin contributors.

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