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Q&A: Leveling the Academic Playing Field for Latino Males

image of professorVictor B. Sáenz grew up in a middle-class family that was deeply committed to education. At an early age, he recognized the stark disparity of opportunities in a region of the state beset by poverty and limited access to education and health resources. Now as a DDCE Faculty Fellow and an associate professor in the College of Education, Sáenz is focusing his research agenda on improving educational outcomes for young boys and men of color, particularly Latino males.

We sat down with Sáenz to learn more about the achievement gap among Latino males and how he is bringing national attention to this understudied field of research.

How did you get started in your research, and why are you focusing specifically on Hispanic and Latino males?
My research focuses on Hispanic and Latino males because education disparities are most pronounced for this population, especially given the demographic reality of this state. In graduate school, I began to delve into the research literature and data trends for young men of color and found myself asking the simple question: “What is happening to our boys?” That was the impetus for my research work in identifying key obstacles that often perpetuate certain outcomes for boys and reinforce the cycle that some term the “school-to-prison pipeline.” From the beginning, I have worked to re-frame the discussion to focus instead on how to expand the “cradle-to-career” pipeline for Latino males, placing more of these young men on a college-bound path.

What’s holding these young men back?
It’s important to understand how we frame this issue. It’s not the deficit of the young boy that we should focus on but rather how we should indict the deficits of the systems that
miseducate these young boys—the deficits that push them out of our schools and out of our communities. They are not matriculating through to college and beyond at rates
comparable to their peers because many are being diverted away through school discipline policies, special education diagnostic policies and inadequate teacher training, among other causes. The questions we should be asking are, “Why do our policies and systems keep failing these boys?” and “How can we address these systemic inequalities?”

During your eight years as a Faculty Fellow in the DDCE, what has been your biggest accomplishment?

My biggest accomplishment has been to leverage all the resources and institutional support the faculty fellowship has provided. With these resources, I have been able to enact a wide-ranging research-to-practice effort that is now scaled-up and serves multiple partners and stakeholders across the state of Texas. Working under the auspices of the DDCE has allowed me to amplify and translate my research work to multiple audiences and expand my programmatic work in ways I could have never imagined in the early years. I am truly grateful for the faith and support that Dr. Vincent has given me over the years, and I am proud of the work we have done together by having the DDCE as a home base for Project MALES.