Spanish Orientation

Sophomore Leyla Coronel, pictured March 13, is from Panama, and she struggled with the language barrier when she first came to the U of A. New ASG legislation would make new student orientations more accessible to Spanish-speaking students and families.

UA admissions officials do not have enough Spanish-speaking staff to offer sessions specifically for incoming Spanish-speaking students, despite an Associated Student Government resolution requesting this service, said the vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions.

ASG senators passed legislation March 12 that encourages admissions officials to offer handouts and slideshows at New Student Orientation in Spanish, as well as organizing question and answer breakout sessions for new students in Spanish, according to the resolution.

The orientation breakout sessions are conducted by faculty and staff, none of whom are fluent in Spanish, making Spanish breakout sessions impossible at this time, said Suzanne McCray, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions, in an email.

Admissions pamphlets are already available to families in Spanish, McCray said. Beginning in June, financial aid information will be made available in Spanish, and PowerPoint slides for orientation are online for parents to access.

The university has three to four fluent Spanish speakers available to anyone who might need support or guidance in Spanish, but not enough to make Spanish breakout sessions possible. The orientation staff and student staff members are always alert to any students or parents who might need assistance, said McCray.

Native Spanish-speaking members of the orientation staff will be wearing badges at orientation asking if they can help and there will be a note on the orientation agenda that Spanish speaking assistants are available, McCray said.

There are 2,076 domestic students who identify as Hispanic on campus, said LatinX Outreach Coordinator Magdalena Arroyo. The university is expecting around 500 Hispanic freshmen in the class of 2023

The increased access to resources in Spanish is intended to help Spanish-speaking students have easy access to the same resources available to students of other ethnicities and nationalities, according to the ASG proposal.

Increased access will also help them not miss any important information, said sophomore Ángel Meneses, who is majoring in biological engineering and is from Cocle, Panama.

They are also looking into having separate breakout sessions for Spanish-speaking parents to allow them to ask any questions they might have in Spanish, but it will not be possible this year because of lack of resources, said ASG Senator Lizeth Martinez.

The idea came to be after Martinez approached Amber Roth, senior associate director for new student orientation, about the idea of a new orientation after Martinez wondered if the university had ever considered one geared towards Spanish-speaking students. ASG Senator’s Kate Sego, Gabriela Gifford and Kevin Tran also helped author the resolution.

Martinez’s parents are from Mexico, and they struggled with the language barrier at orientation, she said.

“When I entered the UofA my parents were really excited about it, but they had a lot of questions, like, ‘What is this, what does this mean?’” Martinez said. “I was an upcoming freshman, so I had no idea what is going on. It’s just very difficult with that barrier. College is already hard enough.”

The updated orientation would also benefit Spanish-speaking international students. Sophomore Leyla Coronel, who is majoring in Civil Engineering, is from Chiriqui, Panama, and struggled with the language barrier when she first came to campus, she said.

“My first orientation was in English, and I didn’t know that much English,” Coronel said. “It didn’t help that much. They talk about important things like insurance, Pat Walker, tuition and many, many other things. I could just catch some words.”

International students attend a smaller orientation specifically for international students. Many Spanish-speaking international students, like Coronel, still struggle with the language barrier and know other students who have as well, Coronel said.

Meneses understands the struggles of missing important information because of the language barrier, he said.

”I came with a program that helped me with everything I need to know,” said Meneses. “There are a lot of international students from Spanish-speaking countries, and also even from here, that do not speak English well. They are not informed, and they miss important things that they need to know.”

 

Abbi Ross is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, where she has been a staff reporter since March 2019.

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