An administrator’s reflection on Community Cultural Wealth and Servingness by Dr. Llanet Martín
Community Cultural Wealth (CCW) – or what Tara Yosso defines as knowledge, skills, and abilities that communities of color nurture and use to resist racism and oppression – is a concept well understood by those of us who practice servingness at HSIs. She identified 6 forms of CCW including aspirational, familial, social, linguistic, resistant, and navigational capital. As a first-generation, low-income, Mexican American, daughter of immigrants, I use my CCW, along with my own experiences navigating higher educational spaces, as the intuition that guides my efforts in shaping and reforming higher education to better serve students like me (and other minoritized groups as well). I also acknowledge and celebrate the CCW that students bring to the institution, centering their family, culture, language, aspirations, and resistance in servingness. I truly believe that centering one minoritized group helps serve others who exist at the margins, rather than detracting from each other, because many of our minoritized populations bring their CCW to campus and use them to resist and thrive.
I am forever grateful that Tara Yosso gave us a way to center the experiences of students of color, especially Latina/o/es, by providing a “legitimate” framework to “prove” that minoritized students have an abundance of capital when they enter our colleges and universities. She helped to validate our voices, our experiences, and our pains, and use them as a source of strength; she disrupted the debilitating “deficit” framing of status quo research; she provided those of us who embrace and implement this framework in our research and practice a structure and language by which we can advocate for our students; a framework that is legitimate, despite those who may not agree.
As we think about transforming colleges and universities for equity and justice, we often spend countless hours advancing inclusion, creating support services, developing culturally relevant curricular and co-curricular programs, and implementing professional development for faculty and staff. We find “legitimate” institutional committees to embed our efforts into; the structures that may not see our contributions as institutional priorities. We give every ounce of who we are to serve the students by thinking creatively about all the layers of oppression that exist within higher education. And then we seek to repair that damage that was done to us, because we see in our students a reflection of our younger selves; the students for whom we want to serve.
Many of us do this work because we see ourselves in the work. As one of my femtors Pat McDonough put it, “Research is Me-search” and arguably, for practitioners, servingness has that same element of looking inward to assess what to do and how to do it. Our journey through college environments, painful or otherwise, serves as the roadmap (in part) for what we do in practice to establish a place that is less painful, or more liberatory for the next generation of Latina/o/e students. As practitioners, scholars, and builders of spaces that will hopefully be better for our Latina/o/e students, CCW is helping us to heal the scars of navigating a space where we felt unseen, undervalued, and always having to work twice as hard and twice as long to get our point across.
As a higher education administrator I have the honor of working on change management, institutional reform, and servingness, guided by my personal, professional and educational experiences. This career path chose me; I do this work because I believe it is my calling, and I love it! Yet there are times when I feel like my CCW is not valued or centered by the institution. Many of us pour into the cups of our students, sometimes until our own cup is empty. We still exist in institutions that don’t see our capital as valuable and exchangeable; institutions where there is no value in our culture, our language, our families, our aspirations, our navigational capital, or our ability to resist the very oppressive systems we are seeking to disrupt. Some of us practice wellness, take a vacation, seek a fitness routine, get out in nature, write and research topics that fill us – the “me-search” – in order to keep doing the work we are so privileged to do each day. Many of us call it our dream jobs. I know I have. We cannot believe we get paid any amount to do this work. And yes, we are very aware of the pay gaps, especially prevalent for women of color. In 2022, Hispanic women earned only 65% as much as White men.
So I ask us, who is centering our CCW? And how do we continue to resist the erasure of our CCW while continuing to serve our students?
Dr. Garcia’s podcast Qué pasa, HSIs? is one way that I stay motivated. All her weekly guests challenge me to think about how I am centering CCW in my work as an institutional change maker. The podcast has given me the opportunity to reflect on my own efforts in diversity, equity, inclusion, and servingness. With one hourly episode I am reinvigorated to keep doing this work I was called to do. And I encourage everyone reading this to find that one thing that will keep them motivated when they feel like the institution is still uncaring and toxic– not investing in us or centering us.
I am a higher education administrator and HSI enthusiast. A critical lover of the dream of having institutions built for us and by us. I want to leave you with a few questions to ponder:
Que pasa HSI colegas, are you feeling centered?
Do you feel valued and supported?
Do you feel enhanced by the institution that you are building up?
Is your CCW being valued, supported, and cared for so that the servingness you build for your students outlives the HSI grant, or categorical dollars, or even your position?
Are the institutions you are making better with (y)our capital recognizing this and in turn investing in it?
Are (y)our efforts being sewn into the fabric of the institutions through legitimate governance channels in order to make these efforts permanent?
Does your institution see that (y)our culture has capital?
Dr. Llanet Martín has more than fifteen years of experience working in higher education. She recently joined the University of Southern California (USC) as Culture Program Director in the Office of Culture, Ethics, and Compliance. She is responsible for implementing the six unifying values centering Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Well-being, Open Communication, Accountability, Excellence, and Integrity. Previously, she served as administrator for the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) as a thought leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts where she focused on removing barriers and shaping conditions for institutional reform that chip away at historical inequities within the system. Through this work, she was the founding director of the Mosaic Center, an intersectional space to support first generation, low-income, students of color, and established tenured roles for the center. She was also an early champion of servingness while in this role. She received a Ph.D. in Higher Education and Organizational Change from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She is a proud daughter of immigrants, a product of community colleges, and a City of Los Angeles Workforce Board Member. Beyond working to promote equitable opportunities to access quality education and careers, she enjoys nutrition, meditation, and fitness as a means to stay whole.