Contextualizing Reaching Latino Freshmen
Each fall we work hard to meet as many incoming Hispanic and Latino freshmen as possible. We want to tell them about Destino, invite them to get involved, and have some way to contact them again to followup with them. While we’ve met more people each year, it hasn’t always translated into more people being involved. I believe this is because we have focused our efforts in ways that, while working for majority culture ministry, don’t work as well for Latinos.
Last fall we sent a postcard to every incoming Hispanic freshman for our school, 1,500 postcards. We had an event, ¿Como Que Failing?, where we met anadditional 130 Latino freshmen. Two days later we put on Salsa Night with over 450 in attendance (maybe 1/3 were Latino). Four days later we passed out free pizza to 500+ freshmen. Then on the first two days of school we gave away 1,500 Freshmen Survival Kits (250-300 to Hispanic freshmen). At a numbers level we did a good job of contacting a large number of Latino freshmen.
After all this, only 30 freshmen came to our first Destino meeting.
As I’ve thought about what we could do differently on our campus, a few things came to mind:
- Power of Personal Invitation. For the Latino students that did get involved with Destino many mentioned that it was the personal invitation that motivated them to come. While this would probably be true of any ethnicity student, I believe it is heightened for Latinos. Many of the Hispanic students we work with have a low self-esteem. When someone seeks them out personally it instills a sense of worth and value in them. “I must be special that they wanted to talk to me.”
I saw this play out on campus today. We were giving away Freshmen Survival Kits alongside our local Cru movement. As the Cru students would shout, “Free stuff!” many students would come over and fill out a survey to get their goodie bag. Four Latina freshmen sat at a table a few feet away. No amount of “free stuff” offers would convince them to come over. One of our Destino leaders walked over to them and started talking. She was able to get to know them, share about Destino, and answer any questions they may have. It was powerful to watch.
- Value of Community. Another way we tried to emphasize the personal connection as we met freshmen was to do much more ministry in community. In years past we would setup tables on campus and 3-4 of our student leaders would be there. We did a big Salsa Night that, while introducing us to a large number of people, ultimately didn’t allow us to interact on a personal level with very many of them.
This year we are doing much more in community with our leaders. We have 10-15 leaders who go to events together on campus to meet freshmen. Instead of Salsa Night we did a much smaller event. We reserved a room on campus and invited Latino freshmen to come. We were able to talk one-on-one with everyone who came and help them feel personally known. The results are still out, but I think this will end up being more effective than our “big” events in the past.
- Latinos Aren’t Looking for Destino. When I worked with the Cru movement on our campus we would have a good number of freshmen who came to college looking to get involved with us. Their parents, friends, or pastors from back home mentioned that Cru would be good for them to grow spiritually in college. That rarely happens for Destino. Students aren’t looking for us. I wonder how much that affects the response rate to our advertising on campus. I think it means we need to focus less on trying to attract people to come and more on reaching out to them, going to find them and inviting them to be involved.
It is much easier for us to advertise and wait for people to come to us. We’re able to “touch” much greater numbers of people this way. But in the end, it is the power of the personal invitation that is most successful in seeing Latinos come check out our Destino movement.
As you think about how you are advertising and trying to meet freshmen this fall, what could you do to personalize your invitations? How can you adapt the way you meet freshmen to connect more with Hispanic and Latino students? Could it mean altering how you table? Do you do away with tabling altogether and try to meet people one-on-one? What are you trying on your campus?