Shining the Light of Research to Better Serve Latino/a Students
Robert Reyes (PhD ’95, MDiv ‘92) says he’s entering “the middle of a storm”-- but that’s right where he wants to be. As research director for the Center for Intercultural Teaching and Learning (CITL) at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana, Dr. Reyes is studying the educational needs and resources of Latino students in his Midwestern community, in order to better understand, retain, and serve this rapidly growing population—and eventually, to share what he’s learned beyond Goshen’s walls.
“There is a significant need in Christian higher education to better understand how we can support and sustain students and faculty of color over time,” Reyes says, “and how to enrich our programs to accomplish this.”
The town of Goshen has seen a striking demographic shift in recent years, he explains, with the percentage of minority students in the public school system increasing five-fold since 1990 to a current level of 40 percent. “If we’re going to be successful as an educational institution, we have to look at the context these students and their families are living in,” he says. “Historically we have not done well at reaching out to Latinos; now, through CITL, we are trying understand how to provide services to these students from an academic perspective, how to advance their opportunities for the future.” Their findings will then be extended to better enroll and retain other students of color at Goshen, and to help other small liberal arts colleges in similar Midwestern communities.
CITL was established at Goshen just two years ago through a grant from the Lilly Endowment. Reyes, who had served for the previous 11 years as associate professor of human development and family science at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, was brought onto the fledging CITL team to launch its research arm last year. He is thrilled to be focusing full-time on this critical research work, without squeezing it on top of a teaching load.
“Researchers have an important role to play in society,” he believes, “to help understand complicated situations so that others can develop the programs to move toward collective solutions.” Research, he says, “is the light that helps people find their way”—as long as that research is centered on the significant valuing of people. This, he emphasizes, is a principle he learned and embraced at Fuller, where he completed a PhD in Family Studies in the School of Psychology: “to never separate research from a person’s story.”
An important part of that story for Latinos in Goshen, Reyes notes, is the plummeting economy—the local unemployment rate has risen from 4.7% to nearly 9% in just the past year—as well as high levels of anti-immigrant sentiment. These are complicating factors that bring both challenge and excitement to Reyes’ research, and the reasons he talks about entering the midst of a storm. “In the past we’d talk about immigration issues, but in ways and places that were safe. Now I have the opportunity to ‘play the game’—to be right in the middle of this—and to uncover and tap the opportunities these changes bring.”
“It’s a critical time in history,” Reyes says, “and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Robert Reyes, CITL research director and professor of sociology at Goshen College, can be contacted at email@example.com.