An Interview with Donney Moroney
Posted Mar 18 2006
At a school like the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, which educates more than 30,000 students a year, it’s easy for an individual to get lost in the shuffle. For many Latino/a students, they also face the pressure of a cultural isolation, in addition to dealing with usual issues such being away from home for the first time. As a result, many flock to U of M’s Latino/a Student Affairs Coordinator, a position held by Wisconsin native Donney Moroney.
MG: Let’s get right down to business. What exactly is it that you do?
DM: Wow, you started off with a hard one! To put it in a nutshell, I advise students on personal concerns related to social adjustment and personal development. I’m also responsible for helping to promote and celebrate Latino culture to the University of Michigan through cultural events, teaching courses, and advising Latino/a student organizations.
MG: So the bulk of your work does not revolve around academics?
DM: No. My work is basically about enhancing education outside of the classroom, particularly through social interactions. There’s a combination of educating non-Latinos about Latino culture and teaching Latino/a students about their own heritage. We’re not just interested in developing academic skills, but also social skills and awareness. Students succeed when they’re happy and have stability. We try to create programs so they feel as if they’re part of a larger community and that support is here for them, if they want it.
MG: What would you say to people who say that ethnic specific positions such as yours cause divisiveness in society?
DM: We have ethnic specific coordinators because there are specific needs in each community. There are common experiences and cultures that shape who students are.
In my office (Multi Ethnic Student Affairs), we also have coordinators for African-American, Asian-American, and Native-American students. Historically, the specific needs of these students were neglected, or simply unrecognized. Yet my office works as a team, and we often coordinate events together, such as the Taste of Culture, an event that brings together students of different backgrounds and lets them share their respective cultures. We also recognize that students have multiple identities, which may include gender, sexual orientation, economic class, and so on. There are common needs among ALL students so much of our work is very integrated with the University at large.
MG: What are some of the unique challenges facing Latino students?
DM: Culture shock! The diversity of the Latino/a students is a challenge for many. Beyond the different countries that are represented, they identify at varying levels with their Latino heritage. Some identify very strongly, others don’t. For many, it’s their first time being in the minority, for others, it’s their first time being around other Latino/as. So while they grapple with these cultural issues, they also have to deal with the same identity development growth process as other students. For many, finances are very real concerns and many are first-generation college students so they feel caught between two worlds, not really fitting in either one because their friends and family back home can’t relate to their new experiences. We could use more Latino/a mentors and role models on campus. There are some very dedicated faculty and staff but they are spread very thin because there aren’t that many of them to “go around.” A general lack of understanding from non-Latinos can be frustrating as well. For too many people, “diversity” still only means Black and White.
MG: Do you have any recommendations for students who are interested in pursuing higher education?
DM: Make sure you prepare yourself academically. Don’t look at high school as an opportunity to breeze through. Take advanced courses that will challenge you and prepare you for the type of academic work that you will be seeing in college. Participate in pre-college programs to get a taste for what your experience could be like. The biggest thing is to not be afraid. Don’t think it’s unattainable. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help!
Ms. Moroney can be reached at: