Understanding Latinx Students: An Anti-deficit Approach

Ruby Murillo, Director of Latinx Student Services


I grew up in a low income household with immigrant parents who had no access to formal education. I remember being ostracised by those around me in both educational and professional settings. This often led to a self-fulfilling prophecy where I internalized and believed what society was telling me about myself. Why was this happening? Institutional racism has influenced empirical research to focus on a deficit lens when talking about Latinx students and their experiences.

Research articles that were published in the 90’s and early 2000’s have primarily looked at communities of color with a negative tone (e.g., they aren’t graduating because they lack English proficiency, they are low income, they lack mentors, etc.). We are never told we carry the wide breadth of skills, characteristics and qualities that are woven in our genetic fabric. In Tara Yosso’s cultural wealth model, she illustrates six forms of capital that communities of color carry: aspirational, linguistic, familial, social, navigational and resistance capital.

Aspirational capital is defined as the “hopes and dreams”, the high aspirations despite persistent systemic inequities. Linguistic capital refers to the various language and communication skills that students bring with them to their campus environment. Familial capital refers to the social and personal resources that students have in their pre-college environment, drawn from their extended familial and community networks. Social capital is a form of capital that emphasizes peer and social contacts, trust and community. Navigational capital refers to skills and abilities to navigate systems, settings and cultural code-switching. Resistance capital has its foundations in the experiences of communities of color securing equal and equitable rights, collective freedom and access to resources. Many times resistance is demonstrated by being in spaces where we are normally not welcomed.

I have made it my responsibility to empower students to take ownership of their lives and future experiences by helping them understand their identity and forms of capital. My hope is that those students empower others and that systems of hierarchy can start to see us in a new light.

This article was originally published in the September 20, 2019 issue.