Tower Center and LCLD Award New Class of Research Grants

After receiving more than 50 applications from scholars across the United States, the Latino Center for Leadership and Development (LCLD) and the SMU Tower Center awarded seven grants to scholars earlier this month interested in understanding the Latino experience in the United States focusing on issues such as immigration and education.

Continue reading Tower Center and LCLD Award New Class of Research Grants

The Tower Center and LatinoCLD Host National Conference, Release First Series of Policy Briefs

DALLAS, TX – The SMU Tower Center and Latino Center for Leadership and Development (LCLD) are hosting The Nation at a Crossroads: A National Latino Policy Conference on June 9 at the Texas State Capitol in Austin.

The conference is designed to highlight and stimulate discussion on the issues most pressing to the Latino community in Texas and the broader U.S. The six panels, comprised of a mix of national experts, state and municipal leadership, as well as local stakeholders, will explore solutions around the 2020 Census, redistricting, voter rights, immigration, unaccompanied minors, and U.S. – Mexico relations.

Continue reading The Tower Center and LatinoCLD Host National Conference, Release First Series of Policy Briefs

Postdoctoral Fellow Danielle Lemi Published in Du Bois Review

Our Postdoctoral Fellow in Latino Public Policy Danielle Lemi had her work “Are Asian Americans who have Interracial Relationships Politically Distinct?” coauthored with Augustine Kposowa published by the Cambridge University Press’ Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race. Lemi and Kposowa found that those with interracial partners are less likely to favor co-ethnic candidates, and are more likely to be concerned about race issues.

Read their full report.

Student Blog | Gente-fication: The Changing Face of Urban Development

genteficationThe SMU Tower Center and Latino Center for Leadership and Development co-hosted a policy forum discussing “gente-fication” and various policy solutions that could reduce the impact of the rising costs of housing and amenities for low-income locals. HCM Tower Scholar Destiny Rose Murphy wrote about what she learned.

Continue reading Student Blog | Gente-fication: The Changing Face of Urban Development

Dallas Morning News reports on Tower Center-LCLD healthcare policy forum

The Tower Center and Latino Center for Leadership and Development (LCLD) held a policy forum Oct. 10 called “The Status of Latino Health in a Shifting Political Landscape.” The forum featured research funded by the Tower Center-LCLD partnership from Edward D. Vargas, assistant professor for the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University. Also on the expert panel was Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins and University of Texas Southwestern clinical practice manager Daffodil Baez.

Read about our event in the Dallas Morning News here.

Jeff Engel: Trump’s DACA announcement gives Congress a chance

Tower Center Senior Fellow Jeffrey Engel was interviewed on Fox 4 News to discuss President Trump’s announcement regarding DACA. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the Justice Department is ending the program, but gave Congress six months to potentially save it. Engel believes that Trump’s six-month deadline on Congress will help to push forward immigration reform in Congress, which prior administrations have struggled with.

“[Trump] is actually giving Congress a chance for that rare thing in Congress, which is a win,” Engel said.

Watch the interview here.

Conference Recap | The State of Latino Education

The Tower Center and Latino Center for Leadership and Development (LCLD) held a conference with SMU Simmons School of Education and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute June 21 to discuss the current state of Latino education in the U.S. and Texas. The conference opened with a keynote address from Dr. Michael McLendon, Dean of the School of Education at Baylor University.

Michael McLendon gives the keynote address at the “State of Latino Education” policy conference June 21.

McLendon opened the conference with a look at where Latinos stand, citing a study conducted by the Pew Research Center. More Latinos are getting degrees and the high school dropout rate is declining, but a gap still persists between Hispanic attainment and the rest of the community. The high school dropout rate is highest for Hispanic students at 12 percent. Hispanic students are also least likely to have student debt, in part because they are more likely to attend two-year programs and community colleges. Why is Latino education so important? Sixty percent of the student body at Texas universities are Latino, McLendon said. When voting, education is considered as important of an issue to Hispanics as terrorism and the economy.

McLendon laid out steps that would improve college access for Latinos. Most important to him was educating families early about college opportunities and various financial plans available to them. “By the time kids are in their junior and senior years of high school, it’s too late for families to plan financially,” McLendon said.

Miguel Solis and A.J. Crabill discuss Latino education in Texas, moderated by Tower Center Postdoctoral Fellow Alicia Reyes-Barrientez.

The first panel of the conference looked at education policy in the state of Texas. Miguel Solis, president of the LCLD, opened the panel noting that 72 percent of students in Dallas Independent School District (DISD) are Latino, and 41 percent of students learn English as their second language. Solis argued that having more Latino representatives on school boards is essential in order to provide students with shared experience and empathy.

“It doesn’t take a Latino to govern a Latino,” Solis said, “but it certainly helps.” Solis was the first Latino to be appointed to serve on the DISD Board of Trustees.

AJ Crabill, Deputy Commissioner for Governance at the Texas Education Agency, followed by saying that student outcomes won’t change until adult behaviors do. Here are two major takeaways from the panel:

1)Early education matters

Both panelists stressed the importance of early childhood education as the primary driver for future success. When Hispanic students arrive at kindergarten or first grade, the majority have heard less words than other students and therefore start school already behind. These students are also much less likely to be literate by third grade, Solis said. For him, this means investing in early childhood is essential.

Crabill agreed. He said that an overwhelming majority of under-performing schools in Texas are elementary schools. His priority is encouraging districts to take advantage of early-learning programs that the state provides. Crabill also advocated for reallocating part of the 9-12 budget to boost early education programs. He said even though it would mean increasing class sizes and reducing staff, it’s those kind of hard decisions that have to be made to solve the problem. He acknowledged that it’s a tough call, but “hard evidence shows it’s the right call for kids.”

Solis and Crabill said that by the time students reach high school it’s too hard to correct what was missing from their early education. For them, it makes more sense to get it right from the start.

2) Students need realistic role models

An audience member asked the panelists about the role of the media and missing colored heroes and heroines in popular films and shows. He wondered if students saw people that looked like them having successful careers in textbooks, brochures, etc., that would help students have greater expectations for their future.

Crabill said that kids get the impression of what is possible for them from people who they routinely interact with, not from what they see on TV or read about in books. He argued that what’s missing from these kids’ lives are good, caring adults who have experienced success being present in their lives. Successful adults need to get personally involved. “When they are personally involved, it’s permanently transformative,” he said.

Denisa Gandara, Gisela Ariza and Aileen Cardona-Arroyo discuss the impacts of federal education policy on Latinos.

The second panel switched focus to federal policy, featuring Gisela Ariza, a policy analyst for the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and SMU’s Denisa Gandara, assistant professor of education. Tower Center postdoctoral fellow Aileen Cardona-Arroyo moderated the panel.

Ariza opened the panel by looking at education issues through a human rights lens. President Trump’s proposed education budget slashes funding by $9.2 billion. This would harm Title I funding, which she argued was something Education Secretary Betsy DeVos doesn’t understand. The cut would also wipe out Title IV funding, which is federal student aid programs that help students afford college.

What Ariza is most concerned about, however, is DeVos’s $250 million proposal for a Voucher program, or what Republicans call school choice. The problem with these programs, Ariza argued, is that they open up students to discrimination. She referenced a concerning interview in which DeVos was unable to say whether or not she would protect students from discrimination. In this example, Rep. Clark described a school in Indiana that does not allow gay or transsexual students to enroll but was approved by the state to receive government funding via the Voucher program. DeVos said each school could determine its own admission policies and that she would not interfere to ensure no student, such as an LGBTQ student, is discriminated against.

Ariza also mentioned that June marks the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1992 ruling in Plyer v. Doe that declared states can’t deny children free public education because of their status as an immigrant. This decision might be in jeopardy under the Trump administration, but 88 percent of immigrant children are born in the U.S. and are therefore guaranteed access to free education in the Constitution.

Gandara began her portion of the panel with an emphasis on the benefits of higher education — which she says is critical for attainment on both the personal and societal level.

The U.S. has made progress in higher education, but an alarming gap for Latinos persists. Four-year graduation rates for Hispanics is 30 percent, and it’s 40 percent for all students. One primary barrier, Gandara said, is Hispanic families have limited knowledge of how the college system works. They don’t understand FAFSA, or how banks and loans work.

Another persistent barrier is affordability. Tuition is two to five times higher than the median net worth of Latino households. Latinos are also less likely to borrow money to attend college, partly because they attend community colleges at a higher rate, and partly because they don’t understand or trust the loan process. Gandara thinks borrowing could help get more students to college.

Her policy solutions are to simplify FAFSA and allow Federal Pell Grants to be used year-round. She ended her talk looking at free college programs. The obvious benefits are access and increased enrollment, according to Gandara. She said the concerns lie in the question of who is actually benefiting and whether or not increased enrollment also leads to a higher success rate for completion. She suggests free college programs should have an income cap to ensure the funding is going to low income students.

Raymund Paredes, Commissioner of Higher Education for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board issued the closing remarks of the conference.

Raymund Paredes, Commissioner of Higher Education for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board issued the closing remarks. The theme of his talk was “we’re getting better, but we’re not getting better fast enough.”

Even though more Latinos are attending college, the numbers aren’t good enough according to Paredes. Latinos are 41 percent of the Texas population, but only 25 percent of people with a higher education credential are Hispanic. He also noted Latino men are the subgroup least likely to participate in higher education (only 3 percent do), followed by black men at 4.2 percent participation.

He argued the Texas’s youthful population is one of the state’s greatest opportunities; it’s one of the few states that has a growing college-going population. But there’s work to be done. In Texas, older generations are more educated than younger generations. The opposite is true in every other state except California, where the populations are equally educated. This is because California and Texas both have high levels of immigration.

He stressed the importance of getting it right for Latinos — the future success of Texas’s economy is dependent on it. By 2050, Latino workers in Texas will outnumber Anglo workers three to one. And for Paredes, getting it right means getting more Latinos to college. Over 99 percent of job growth during the recovery went to workers with higher education credentials.

See Paredes’s full presentation here and the full report from THECB on its 60x30TX higher education plan here.

Consul General, TC Director discuss NAFTA, protectionism in DMN

Dallas and Fort Worth Mayors returned from a trip to Toronto feeling both hope and anxiety over NAFTA, the Dallas Morning News reported.

DMN reporter Tristan Allman talked to Sara Wilshaw, Consul General of Canada in Dallas, about her thoughts on the Trump administration’s policies. Wilshaw underscored the importance of the trade relationship, saying she believes it should not only be maintained but strengthened as well.

Tower Center Academic Director Jim Hollifield told Allman the problem for trade is at the national level.

“At least at the local level, in these regions like Dallas-Fort Worth, the mayors have no doubt how important this is for the economic growth of the city and the region,” he said.

Read Allman’s story here.

SMU Professor to research college access for English language learners

Denisa Gándara,  assistant professor of higher education at SMU, is one of 13 scholars who has been awarded a research grant as part of the Latino Center for Leadership and Development (LCLD) and the Tower Center for Political Studies research partnership.

The grant program was established to provide meaningful research geared to promoting a stronger understanding of the Latino community and creating a dialogue about key societal issues.

“The issuing of these grants marks the beginning of a new approach to policy and research related to the Latino community,” said Miguel Solis, president of the Latino CLD.

The awards were chosen by the research grant advisory board made up of Solis, Tower Center Academic Director Jim Hollifield, and Tower Center Postdoctoral Fellows Alicia Reyes-Barriéntez and Aileen Cardona Arroyo.

“Denisa is already doing excellent work,” Reyes-Barriéntez said. “She is a young scholar with an exciting future at SMU, and we are excited that she will form part of our research partnership.”

Gándara’s research will look at college access for English learners (ELs) in the state of Texas. Coming from a small border town near Brownsville, the issue resonates with her childhood.

“I was an English learner myself,” she said. “I knew a few people who were English learners all the way through high school.”

In Texas only 8 percent of ELs graduate from high school college-ready.

“Even in schools where a lot of graduates go onto college, that’s not the case for English learners, so it seems they’re not benefiting from that college-going culture and that could be because they’re segregated,” Gándara said.

Texas’s higher education plan calls for almost doubling the percent of the population that has a postsecondary degree or credential. “It’s a big goal,” Gándara said.

Gándara thinks one of the reasons the state still has so far to go is that ELs have been neglected when considering policy change. She hopes her research will help fill in that gap.

“Denisa’s research is more relevant today than it has ever been,” Solis said. “Ensuring that policy makers and the public understand issues related to English language learners and can enact solutions to address those issues will be critical to ensuring our nation’s success.”

Rather than looking at student factors, she plans to focus her research on the structural barriers at both the school level and district level. She wants to explore what is working well for the students and identify areas that could be improved.

Gándara expects to produce two papers over two years for the project. She says she is especially excited about the focus of the Latino CLD- Tower Center partnership to merge scholarship with focus.

“I don’t always have the opportunity to translate my research into policy, so I think the LCLD and the Tower Center are both uniquely positioned to be able to use the findings of my research because they work directly with leaders and prospective elected officials,” she said.

“We want for research to inform practice and policy,” Reyes-Barriéntez said. “That’s what we value.”

Read more on the timeliness of Gándara’s research in the Dallas Morning News here.

Adam Levine | How Political Rhetoric Engages and Demobilizes Citizens


Adam Seth Levine, professor of government from Cornell University, gave his talk “How Political Rhetoric Engages and Demobilizes Citizens”  at the Tower Center- Latino Center for Leadership and Development joint policy forum Oct. 28.

Conventional wisdom about political rhetoric leads people to believe talking about problems increases engagement. Levine argues that political rhetoric is self-undermining. While it leads to increased concern about problems, it also inflames them and decreases political activism.

He used Republican nominee Donald Trump’s campaign as an example. At the third presidential debate, Trump would not commit to accepting the election results if he loses. He has repeatedly claimed that the election is rigged, and Levine argues that this hurts his campaign.

In his research, Levine found that telling people their voice isn’t being heard, doesn’t make them want to participate. Instead it serves as an anti-Get out the vote effort for Trump.

This theory holds true with other political rhetoric. Talking about economic insecurity in a campaign reduces financial and time donations to causes. “When you tell people they’re poor, they don’t want to spend money on your cause,” Levine said.