From celebrating pride month to Juneteenth, now more than ever, people are realizing the importance of recognizing diversity and other cultures.
Elvita Quiñones, staff advisor at the Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA), believes awareness and dialogue around diversity and inclusion have improved significantly since growing up in Pennsylvania.
“Growing up in a predominantly white society and schools, I often felt like the only person of color in the room, with an ethnic-sounding name,” she says “I’ve faced a fair share of racism as a result in the ’90s in suburban Pennsylvania.”
It was very important to Quiñones to stay connected to her Puerto Rican roots. She felt the need to connect with fellow Latino students even more after starting college at West Chester University.
“When I went to West Chester, I found spaces where I could fit in and not stand out. I found a Latin community that I could resonate with,” she says. In college, she expanded her network and joined the first Latin American sorority in the country.
Being a first-generation college student, she credits her university’s multicultural office for helping her be successful in navigating higher education. “Mentors at the college really helped me, and I owe them all my success,” she says. “That was the beginning of my journey.”
It can be very intimidating to find a place where one can belong in college. “It’s important to network and stay connected,” advises Quiñones. Throughout her journey, she has tried to stay connected to members of her sorority, first-generation college students and other marginalized communities.
And so, when some students at Temple University approached her regarding the formation of a Latinx student organization at Temple, Quiñones was all ears.
ALPFA is a leading national organization that prides itself on empowering Latin/Latinx students across the country to become better leaders while spurring professional development. The Temple University chapter of ALPFA was founded by Kimberly Hernandez in 2017 under the mentorship of staff advisor, Elvita Quiñones.
It wasn’t easy to start a Latinx student organization at Temple. The group initially appealed to the university to start a local chapter and were told to create a business school student professional organization (SPO) instead. “Students from all schools are encouraged to join,” she says “But we are more geared towards business students.”
Now, several years later, the Temple chapter of ALPFA has been constantly growing since its inception and had over 500 students attend its recent career fair. In addition to students of Latinx culture, the organization welcomes students of any culture to be a part of the conversation around diversity and take part in professional development events.
“It’s a very welcoming space and we see students from different ethnicities understanding what they can bring to organizations and leveraging that information when they meet recruiters,” says Quiñones.
The SPO is focused on investing in its students. Quiñones believes that the business firms have unwritten rules, which might be hard to navigate if you’re an outsider and that ALPFA is committed to helping students cross that threshold and be a part of the corporate culture.
“We have networking and social events, often led by leaders in the private organizations, that help students learn and understand the business world,” she says.
But organizations need to be more involved, believes Quiñones. During Hispanic heritage month, most organizations are focused on promoting their products and spread brand awareness.
Instead, Quiñones believes that firms need to be more proactive in financially investing in diversity programs that increase educational, professional, and entrepreneurial development opportunities for historically underrepresented communities. “There’s a difference between saying that diversity is important to us versus implementing successful initiatives that fuel diversity,” she says.