OIEIE Fellow Enhances Student Experience

May 15, 2020 at 4:16 pm

Dr. Araceli Hernandez-Laroche, an associate professor of modern languages and the assistant chair of the Department of Languages, Literature and Composition, has been selected as the first fellow of the Office of Institutional Equity, Inclusion and Engagement (OIEIE).

The role of the OIEIE fellow is to support the work of the university in equity and inclusion through advocacy and public scholarship.

Hernandez-Laroche, the first tenured Latina professor at USC Upstate, is heavily involved in the Spartanburg community, serving on boards for the Chapman Cultural Center, Hub City Writer’s Project, the Spartanburg County Foundation’s LGBT Fund, and the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce’s Inclusion Council. She is also the facilitator for the Hispanic Alliance of Spartanburg.

“Dr. Hernandez-Laroche has served as an exceptional ambassador of promoting voice and enhancing the sense of belonging for students and faculty alike,” USC Upstate Chief Diversity Officer Alphonso Atkins says. “Through her advocacy and research, she exemplifies a commitment to public scholarship that advances wellness, equity and civility throughout campus and in the community. Her focus on enhancing the experiences of Latinx and first-generation students both within the classroom and beyond serves our greater goal of making USC Upstate a model of inclusive excellence.”

In some ways, the motivation for Hernandez-Laroche’s service can be summed up in a simple philosophy: “Speak the language. Listen. Show up.”

Spartanburg, for instance, has a growing Hispanic population, but also a large German community and sizeable Russian and Ukrainian communities. Promoting diversity, Hernandez-Laroche says, includes letting people from these communities see you involved and, whenever possible, hear you speak in their native tongue.

Part of the challenge of building inclusive communities is breaking free of a “monolingual outlook,” Hernandez-Laroche says. An area nonprofit’s request for proposals written in Spanish and Russian carries with it a powerful diversity and inclusion message, for instance.

“We are missing out on talent every single year,” she says. “If you want to increase Latino college retention and success, we’re going to have to get super creative with outreach with the community and the families. That’s the key. Maybe I’m doing this in a roundabout way, but the more they see you – ‘Hey, there’s a professor who looks like my sister, or my mom’ – then the more they say, ‘We belong.’”

Hernandez-Laroche’s passions keep her calendar full. She embraces opportunities to speak about the importance of languages, community engagement and the need for more Latinx representation in board and business leadership. In 2019, she gave presentations at Gonzaga University, Baylor University, Clemson University and Wofford College, in addition to campus and community talks. She also co-authored a peer-reviewed article with Spanish instructor Maria Francisco Monteso for the Modern Languages Association, “A classroom without borders: Why world languages need translations studies and cross-divisional partners.”

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and immigrating to Southern California at a young age, Hernandez-Laroche sees her work as carrying forward USC Upstate’s core values of wellness, equity and civility. Part of promoting wellness is creating a welcoming environment, she says. Treating each other with civility, particularly in conversations, helps move away from stereotypes. And together, these qualities can make a person more resilient to inequities, whether that’s marginalization, wage gaps or other barriers.

“It’s very empowering to be able to showcase how I’m able to bridge communities through language skills, cultural skills,” she says. “I’m so happy that Al Atkins reached out to me to promote some of the things I do, because that helps me spread the message.”