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Hispanic Heritage Month event recognizes contributions, addresses challenges of Hispanic and Latino Americans

Students and faculty panel takes on questions of diversity and inclusion in UMMS community

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

September 24, 2020
Rosal new photo.jpg
Vice Provost for Health Equity
Milagros Rosal, PhD, moderated
the Hispanic Heritage Month
panel discussion on Sept. 23

The annual UMass Medical School Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration took place virtually Wednesday, Sept. 23, with a live, online panel discussion. The event was part of the campus diversity and inclusion fall programming.

Milagros Rosal, PhD, professor of population & quantitative health sciences and vice provost for health equity, moderated the discussion.

Panelists were Kelly Garcia, DNP student in the Graduate School of Nursing; Maria Garcia, MD, MPH, professor of medicine and assistant vice provost for diversity and student success; Daniel Hidalgo, PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences; Javier Irazoqui, PhD, associate professor of microbiology & physiological systems; Ana Maldonado-Contreras, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology & physiological systems; Jaime Rivera, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics; and fourth-year School of Medicine student Vanessa Villamarin.  

Dr. Rosal began with the question, “What are the differences between Hispanic, Latino and LatinX?” While answers varied, the consensus was that most important point is to use the terms inclusively for all from Spanish-speaking, Latin American or South American backgrounds, whether immigrant or American-born.

“It's hard to fully comprehend the diversity within the Latino and Latina world,” said Dr. Irazoqui. “Each one of our countries of origin or ancestry is as complex and varied as the United States.”

“Most of all, I think we all consider ourselves Hispanic Latinos,” said Dr. Garcia.

Panelists addressed what it means to them to be Hispanic and Latino Americans; why it is important to know about their cultures; how their experiences as minorities in academic and professional settings have shaped them; and what they envision to create a more diverse and inclusive community at UMass Medical School and beyond.

While affirmative and optimistic, the discussion did not sidestep problems.   

“To be Latino in the United States during this time is a challenge,” said Dr. Rivera. “It is always an uphill battle against the stereotypes and unconscious bias that we have to be fighting every day,”

But all are on board to be part of positive change.

“It is the wonderful collaborative spirit that exists in this institution that creates a community,” said Hidalgo. “We are multicultural. UMass is multicultural. When you have such a variety of perspectives and experiences and different cultures in themselves, that strengthens everybody.”

“We need to learn from the experiences of people like yourselves who have achieved excellence and have achieved greatly coming from diverse backgrounds and might have had an uphill battle,” said Executive Deputy Chancellor, Provost and School of Medicine Dean Terence R. Flotte in his closing comments. “It's so important that you all are investing your time and energy into our community. Thank you.”

Related stories on UMassMed News:
Milagros Rosal named inaugural vice provost for health equity at UMMS
UMMS faculty recognized as Dr. Marcellette G. Williams Distinguished Scholars
Maria Garcia appointed assistant vice provost for diversity and student success
UMass Medical School taking a stand in support of positive change
Biomedical sciences training grant affirms commitment to advance diversity in workforce