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Indiana Latino Institute leader advocates for education equity

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage: Indiana Latino Institute leader advocates for education equity

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — One woman is working to amplify the voices of Hispanic students across Indiana, and Rachel Santos isn’t someone who easily gives up when it comes to advocating.

The woman who has a Doctor of Education degree helps lead the charge at the Indiana Latino Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on uplifting the Hispanic community.

“My master’s is in public policy, and it’s what I’ve always dreamt of doing, and so I joined the team in February of 2022, and quickly took off,” Santos said.

Santos is the director of education policy and strategic partnerships at the Indiana Latino Institute, known in the organization as ILI.

She says the Hispanic community is still fighting for education equity in Indiana.

“One of the big things that we do at ILI is work to change systems, and so, we can do as much programming as possible, but if we’re not changing the systems then we’re just going to be running in place,” Santos said.

If she’s not in the office, she might be advocating for the community in front of legislators at the Statehouse. Her efforts include growing the state’s 21st Century Scholars program, which focuses on making college more affordable.

“Advocating for the 21st Century Scholar, automatic enrollment, advocating for driver cards for undocumented individuals, advocating for in-state tuition for undocumented students, and I say all the time, I’m truly doing exactly what I want to be doing,” Santos said.

She says growing up in Indiana’s education system she endured challenges that are now part of her story.

“I’m, third, fourth generation, and, so, to be put in a box and not really taking the time to say, ‘OK, what does this student need?’ that was my experience. It wasn’t the best experience,” Santos said.

She’s creating opportunities for marginalized students: scholarships, internships, and the Indiana Lation Institute’s annual education summit.

“The experience of a high school Latino student entering a space where there’s over 2,000 students who look like them, who have similar experiences that’s what it’s about. I always say, ‘How beautiful is it that for these students this is the norm,'” Santos said.

She says there’s still a lot more work to be done.

“It’s easy to feel defeated, but I think it’s a reminder that we are positioned to continue the conversation, and so if we don’t bring these issues to the table every year who’s going to do it?” Santos said.

Santos says she’s looking forward to finding more ways to help these students succeed both in the classroom and at home.