‘No Soy Other’ – A Spotlight on Latinx young people in the UK
26th November 2019
On November 20, The Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY) and King’s College London (KCL) convened a report launch of a different kind, bringing together academics, community leaders, parents and young people for a celebration of all things Latin American.
The evening in the university’s Great Hall, which included a Peruvian dance to traditional music and Spanish and Portuguese interpretation throughout, launched CfEY’s fourth report on access to higher education with KCL: ‘Representation, engagement and participation: Latinx students in higher education’.
In the report, CfEY investigated the main barriers affecting Latinx young people’s access to HE in the UK, through interviews and focus groups with academics, community leaders, parents, teachers, university staff, and Latinx young people. After pinning down the common challenges, we came up with six core recommendations for creating positive change, which were discussed in turn at the launch event:
- Support Latinx pupils to secure and declare their citizenship status: This work should begin early, and could involve signposting families to pro bono legal support, or supporting with the cost of the child citizenship fee such as through the Citizenship Payment Plan
- Address language barriers: For example by holding information and advice events in community venues, with Latinx students, or students on Spanish or Portuguese courses, acting as interpreters
- Go beyond access: Latinx students may require particular support with feeling as though they ‘fit in’ at university and navigating their parents’ expectations of what they should do when they graduate. HEIs should involve students in this support, providing resources and logistical support for peer mentoring between existing students and new, or prospective students, both on- and off-campus
- Work with key community brokers to establish strong, long-term partnerships between HEIs and Latinx groups: This can happen directly, by working with local church groups and community groups, or through a community organising group or a Council for Voluntary Services
- Call on the ONS and UCAS to officially recognise Latinx students: Building on the work started by groups such as LatinXcluded
- Ensure Latinx people are visible in a variety of roles within HE: HEIs should support their Latinx academics to have a visible profile, and to play an active role in outreach work. This will help to demonstrate the many, key roles Latinx people play in the day-to-day life of higher education in the UK
Joanna Marchant, Head of Widening Participation (Pre-16) at KCL, began the night by explaining how the report had been inspired by an impassioned campaign led by a small group of Latinx students. ‘LatinXcluded’ are campaigning for representation of Latin Americans on university application forms and other official documents, as part of a campaign to increase the visibility of the Latinx community in the UK in general. At present in the UK there is no formal ethnic minority status for Latin Americans. When filling in important forms, including the Census, some Latin Americans define themselves as ‘White’, some as ‘Mixed’, some simply as ‘Other’, and because of this they become ‘invisible’: it is difficult to say with accuracy where they live, in what numbers, and the extent to which public services meet their needs.
As well as calling for recognition for Latin Americans in the 2021 census, LatinXcluded are campaigning for changes to the UCAS forms that young people must use to submit their applications for UK university places. Joanna explained that King’s has already changed the way their applications data is gathered to acknowledge Latinx students and is calling on other universities to do the same.
“How does your community get the public services it requires when there are no official statistics on your size or where you live? How do you get the support that is needed to access and succeed at university if your institution is missing important information about you? At King’s we are committed to serving our community and this report helps us, and others, to do that. Importantly, it is a call to action.”
Joanna Marchant, Head of Widening Participation (Pre-16) at KCL
Alix Robertson and Sam Baars, the report authors from CfEY, then had a chance to talk through some of the main findings of the study and priority areas for future research, which you can read more about here.
This was followed by Krishmary Ramdhun, a member of LatinXcluded, who took to the stage to address our first recommendation, by bravely explaining her own experiences with citizenship status. Krishmary described how the pressure of studying for her A levels at the same time as preparing for the Life in the UK test – “two tests that would define my future forever” – had proved too stressful, and eventually made her ill. She said she wants to see greater support for young people experiencing such challenges.
“Every year Latinx young people like me graduate from college but are unable to go into HE because they haven’t secured their citizenship. I want my generation to be the last one that suffers from this.”
Krishmary Ramdhun, LatinXcluded
Elsie Till, Project Manager at EdAid, an organisation that partners with colleges and universities to help students defer or crowdfund their tuition fees, also tackled our first recommendation. She explained that while thousands of Latinx young people are entitled to British citizenship, many are not claiming their entitlement because of the prohibitive Home Office fees, which, at £1,012 per child, are more than 10 times the cost of citizenship fees in other European countries. Without citizenship, they are excluded from higher education, decent work and sometimes even healthcare, as well as facing the risk of deportation.
However, last month EdAid, Citizens UK and KCL launched the Citizenship Payment Plan, which is designed to provide an “ethical and affordable solution that allows families to pay the fees in small amounts over 12 months with no added costs included”. Under the plan, Home Office fees are paid upfront, meaning the borrower can move forward with their studies straight away, and pay the fees back gradually over time.
“A recent borrower was trying to save for months. Her aunt died and she had to contribute her savings to the costs of the funeral. Her daughter has a school trip to France next year in June so she is desperate to get her passport in time. Her son turns 18 next year and his case for his own citizenship will be greatly enhanced once his sister has her status. If he waits until he is 18 the whole process becomes much more expensive and complicated. By taking out a payment plan with us she will be able to submit her daughter’s application this month.”
Elsie Till, Project Manager for the Citizenship Payment Plan at EdAid
To access the service applicants must have a strong and clear legal case for citizenship, leave to remain in the UK, a UK bank account in their name, and be able to afford monthly payments of £84.While thousands of Latinx young people are entitled to British citizenship, many are not claiming their entitlement because of the prohibitive Home Office fees Click To Tweet
Our second recommendation was tackled by Grace Romero, organiser of Parents And Communities Together (PACT), who was joined by a group of Latinx mums and some of their children too. They explained that while “integration, well-being and social mobility are wonderful concepts”, they are also “hard to turn to realities”. They called on more institutions to “create bridges and spaces for Latin Americans to flourish”.
“When you can’t speak English, you get frustrated. You feel lost, metaphorically and literally.”
The parents ended their discussion with the spirited call to arms: “For our young people!”
Latinx students Vitória and Henrique then took on our third recommendation, which addresses the need for support to be co-created with young people. The pair explained that they had recently surveyed Latin American students at King’s and other London universities, to gather their own insights into Latinx young people’s experiences. Vitória highlighted a lack of representation among senior academics, saying: “In the few courses where we have the option to learn about our countries, our stories, this is done from the perspective of British or American professors, which still undermines the experiences of Latin Americans themselves.” Henrique added that students had also noted a lack of Latin American content in the curriculum, which they said focused predominantly on North America and Europe. This came alongside general “ignorance” about Latin America, which they said often leads to Latinx students being treated like regional ‘experts’.
“I am left to answer all kinds of questions about what is going on, asked to represent a whole continent’s opinion. Classmates, professors, friends asking about the Amazon fires, or the most recent scandal, and how Latin Americans view it. How am I supposed to speak for millions of people? And the lack of knowledge doesn’t end there. I am constantly asked if, since I am Brazilian, I speak Spanish, or possibly even worse, if I speak Brazilian.”
Vitória, Latinx HE student
Henrique stressed that universities need to ask Latinx students what they need if they are going to support them properly. Engaging with the Latinx student population, he said, creates a sense of belonging, while organising academic, cultural and social events related to Latin America for both students and staff is an important step in increasing visibility and representation.
Dr Juan Grigera, Lecturer in the Political Economy of Inclusive Development at KCL, followed by supporting the points made by the students and detailing his own experiences of academia. He emphasised the importance of HE institutions supporting the profile of Latinx academics, addressing our sixth recommendation that Latinx people should be visible in a variety of roles within HE.
After a break for attendees to meet each other and enjoy some refreshments, we heard from Liliana Torres, founder of the Spanish speaking version of Parent Power, a Citizens UK parental engagement programme in South London that is run in partnership with KCL, and works to boost understanding of the UK education system and how to access HE. Discussing our fourth recommendation on working with community brokers, Liliana explained how getting involved with the programme had inspired her to embark on a degree herself, as well as learning about how to support her son, and setting up her own branch of the group so that parents struggling with English could benefit from the support too.
“Together we have organised Open Days at top universities and secured bursaries to summer schools making it affordable for our children to attend. As parents we hope to work together and do more for our children by empowering parents to take action.”
Liliana Torres, Founder of Empoderando PadresAt present in the UK there is no formal ethnic minority status for Latin Americans. When filling in important forms some define themselves as ‘White’, some as ‘Mixed’, some simply as ‘Other’, and because of this they become ‘invisible’ Click To Tweet
A real highlight of the evening was hearing from Cecilia Alfonso-Eaton, another co-founder of LatinXcluded. She spoke passionately about the creation of the group, which was inspired by “anger and frustration”.
“There we were, three young Latin American women angry about the under representation of our community in this country. We were all just about to apply to university and had noticed there was no box for Latin Americans to tick on the ethnicity question. Yet again would we tick ‘other’ and once again be invisible.”
Cecilia Alfonso-Eaton, LatinXcluded
Cecilia took a moment to take stock of the fantastic achievements of LatinXcluded in the year since it was created – building a relationship with KCL and encouraging them to change their internal processes to recognise Latinx students, sparking the launch of the research with CfEY, starting a conversation with the Office for National Statistics, and featuring in a documentary titled with their slogan: ‘No Soy Other’. Seeing that this progress has been possible has inspired her and others to continue the fight for better Latinx representation and feel hope for what the sector can do for the Latinx community in the future, she added.
Jimmy Pickering, Widening Participation Manager (Post 16) at King’s, drew the evening to a close by returning to the central issue of getting a specific ethnic code for ‘Latin American’ on the census and in university applications.
“We need coherent and useful data to inform the work we are doing to make our institution more representative, and a place where students can achieve successful outcomes regardless of their background.”
Jimmy Pickering, Widening Participation Manager (Post 16), KCL
Highlighting KCL’s work in introducing an internal tracking code to gather information about their own Latinx students, Jimmy called on other universities to do the same and to open up active, positive dialogues with Latinx communities.
It was a fantastic evening and wonderful to see so many young people and members of the Latinx community coming together to discuss the report and share ideas for ways to move forward. Here at CfEY, we hope the experience will spark an ongoing relationship of support and inspiration with Latinx groups, especially in the capital. We plan to identify one of our research recommendations to take forward in the future, and will do so in close partnership with the Latinx community.