PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 27, No. 9, Nov. 1, 2007
Latino/a Family Visit Day: better than a ‘whole day of recess’
Roxana Ryan, News Bureau Intern
On a beautiful September Sunday, Daissy Dominguez welcomed three generations of her family to the UI campus for an introduction to all things Illinois – in Spanish – for Latino/a Family Visit Day.
Her younger siblings went one way for fun and games; her parents and grandfather another, for information on campus life.
“The day is all about ‘College Knowledge,’ ” said Cathy Acevedo, an associate dean of students and co-chair of Latino/a Family Visit Day. “Family support is essential for student success, regardless of cultural background.”
All parents feel mixed emotions when it’s time for a child to leave home for a large university. Combine these feelings with language barriers, confusing paperwork and unfamiliarity about campus, and the process can be terrifying.
Since 2004, the UI has hosted an orientation program for families of Latino/a students new to campus. The free daylong event focuses on helping parents and siblings become familiar and comfortable with the university. Adult family members learn about campus resources, older siblings learn about the college experience and leadership skills while younger siblings are escorted to the Campus Recreation Center East facility for swimming, crafts and movies.
Acevedo said some immigrant families aren’t familiar with higher education in the U.S.
“If the student’s parents attended a university in their homeland or didn’t attend college at all, they might be hesitant about sending their child away to an unfamiliar school,” Acevedo said. “The educational system is different here in the U.S. and can be very confusing.”
Dominguez, a sophomore in political science and psychology who hopes to attend law school after graduating from the UI, said she has always set high goals for herself.
“In high school, many of my advanced placement teachers were alumnae of the university,” Dominguez said. “They told me it was a great school filled with opportunities. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in then, but I knew I would have lots of choices. I picked political science because I have an interest in the workings of government, and psychology as a back-up plan because I also think it would be rewarding to be a counselor.”
Dominguez’s older sister and parents also have set an example.
“She (Dominguez’s sister) has a master’s degree in graphic design and a great job at Orbitz.com,” Daissy Dominguez said. “My parents have encouraged all of my siblings to get a good education. They understand how important it is.”
Dominguez’s family arrived from Chicago early on Sept. 30 in time for a continental breakfast at the Illini Union.
“My family, like many Latino families, is very close-knit,” Dominguez said. “It was hard for my parents to see me go, even though they knew it was what I needed to do.”
Dominguez’s mother, Belinda Zuñiga, agreed that she was uncertain at first.
“Parents always have their doubts,” Belinda Zuñiga said in Spanish. “We want to know who will take care of our children when we aren’t around. This is a big university and it was very intimidating at first. I wasn’t sure where to go for information.”
Dominguez’s father, Alfredo Zuñiga, said the program gave him a different perspective on the university.
“We often hear it is a party school but now my opinion has changed,” Alfredo Zuñiga said. “I learned much more about the school today and I definitely feel reassured. We were taken care of every step of the way, every detail was organized right down to lunch and transportation. We are very impressed.”
Since parents and younger children are separated for most of the day, parents and their UI student are able to focus on the program without worrying about keeping the younger family members happy.
Dominguez’s siblings, 14-year-old Alfredo, 6-year-old Alexis and 3-year-old Ariana, were escorted to programs designed for them.
“The sibling programs are designed so they can relate to the place their older siblings attend college,” Acevedo said. “Family Visit Day is very much a recruitment tool as well. We want to show the siblings that the university is for them too.”
For siblings aged 13-17, a program was available on the engineering campus to encourage siblings to set goals on higher education, learn about college admissions and cultivate leadership skills.
For younger siblings, a day of recreation, crafts, snacks and movies was planned at CRCE. Volunteers helped children paint a giant mural and led them in interactive games.
Alexis said his day was better than a “whole day of recess at school.”
“At the end of family day, the younger kids are telling their parents ‘I want to go here too,’ ” Acevedo said.
Dominguez said she hopes her younger siblings will follow in her footsteps now that they’ve seen the university.
“My little brothers and sister really like it here and they feel comfortable knowing where I’m at and what I do when I’m away at school,” Dominguez said.
Belinda Zuñiga said she was reassured when the program was conducted in Spanish.
“Having a room full of Spanish-speaking families put me at ease,” Zuñiga said. “I felt comfortable asking and responding to questions. The administrators and professors also spoke in Spanish. We were impressed.”
Family Visit Day is underwritten in a large part by JP Morgan Chase.
News Bureau, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
507 E. Green St., Suite 345, Champaign, Illinois 61820
Telephone 217 333-1085, Fax 217 244-0161