Dr. Michelle Espino Speaks to Understanding Latina/o Educational Pathways from the Perspectives of Scholar and Subject of Inquiry

by HyeJin Tina Yeo / Mar 1, 2017

On Tuesday, February 7, Dr. Michelle Espino, the third speaker of the College of Education’s Dean’s Diversity Lecture Series co-sponsored by the Office of the Provost and OCCRL, opened her lecture with a powerful quote from Luis Valdez. (See the PowerPoint slide she shared with the audience below.)  

Dr. Espino, an assistant professor of higher education at University of Maryland, College Park, focused on understanding community contexts and institutional responses associated with educational achievement and outcomes along the academic life course for racial/ethnic minorities.

In her lecture, I am “The People”: Understanding Latina/o Educational Pathways from the Perspectives of Scholar and Subject of Inquiry," Dr. Espino shared her journey as a first-generation college student, a Chicana student, and now a Chicana scholar. Her personal story allowed the audience to sympathize with what racial/ethnic minorities experience in systems that are not built for them. In order to understand community contexts and institutional arrangements that hinder or support Latina/o educational achievement, she briefly introduced her epistemology by using three examples: the process of photosynthesis for (post) positivism, the story of ‘the Giving Tree’ (Silverstein, 1964) for constructivism, and an art piece of Jackson Pollock for subjectivism. Dr. Espino further explained her conceptual framework included Chicana feminist theory, Community Cultural Wealth (Yosso, 2005), and Critical Race Theory (Solórzano & Yosso, 2001). Emphasizing the need to acknowledge the intersectionality of these theories, she argued that it is the responsibility of the educational system around P-12 pipeline to not only teach underrepresented communities and families but also to value the culture that is cultivated within their community, in her case, the Latina/o community.

Dr. Espino's research showed what Latina/o students experienced and how they struggled in order to “fit” in the academy. The quality of educational opportunity for Latina/os is threatened by the politics of exceptionality, marginalization, and exploitation. These factors in combination with a lack of mentoring as well as feelings of isolation, further distances Latina/o students, and can also lead to them questioning their place in academia. Latina/o students in doctoral education shoulder the burden of dealing with competition, financial struggle, and stereotypes, to survive in institutional sorting mechanisms. In particular, Latina students may even have to deal with double standards from family and academia under the yoke of traditional gender roles. Some factors such as self-efficacy, social networks, high educational aspirations, and strong family supports positively influenced their success in education. To both support the growing Latina/o student population and to fully benefit from the contributions of Latina/os in academia, the system needs to both adapt to and recognize the value of Latina/o contributions and cultures.

During the entire lecture, Dr. Espino did not hold back her encouragement for communities of color in higher education to learn, work together, and co-construct better paradigms and practices. Furthermore, she emphasized Latina/o scholars have the responsibility to pursue scholarly work with care and respect for Latina/o students. She closed her lecture with her promise not to make the educational pathway easier, but to be there for you!

I encourage you to watch the  video of Dr. Espino's lecture and to join us at the upcoming Dean’s Diversity Lecture Series that will feature the following four dynamic speakers.

  • April 13 - Pamela Eddy, William & Mary School of Education
    12:00 p.m. campus lecture, Illini Union, Room 104
    3 p.m. fireside chat at Education building
    Leadership development, gender, and leadership, and how leaders frame change for campus members
  • April 18 - Stephen John Quaye, Miami University 
    12:00 p.m. campus lecture, Illini Union, Room 210
    3 p.m. fireside chat at Education building
    Strategies for students and faculty to engage in dialogue about difficult issues related to privilege, oppression, and power
  • May 3 - Linda Tillman, University of North Carolina
    12:00 p.m. campus lecture, Illini Union, Room 210
    3 p.m. fireside chat at Education Building
    Mentoring of early career and faculty of color and culturally appropriate research approaches


  • Silverstein, S. (1964). The Giving Tree. New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
  • Solórzano, D. & Yosso, T. (2001). Critical race and LatCrit theory and   method: Counterstorytelling Chicana and Chicano graduate school experiences. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 14, 471-495.  
  • Yosso, T. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race discussion of community cultural wealth. Race, Ethnicity, and Education, 8(1), 69-91.