By: Maria del Toro
“Titi, you got this.” I still remember hearing those words in the fall of last year before walking to my first day of classes at Booth. I was shaking in my boots. I felt so small, and so out of my league. I was a nontraditional applicant that came from the nonprofit sector, and I thought that a T-chart was something found in a doctor’s office or on a golf course. Booth felt like a long way from my home in the Bronx, and an even longer way from my family weathering the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
I distinctly remember calling a friend before my first 8:30am class. He was driving his 4-year-old to daycare while I was crying about being too scared to go to my first day of school. That was when I heard his daughter scream into the car stereo from the back seat, "Titi, you got this." A 4-year-old girl will always keep it real with you, so I went to my accounting class and learned what a T-chart actually is.
Almost exactly a year later, I shared that story at the kickoff reception for the inaugural University of Chicago-wide Hispanic Heritage Month. I was there to deliver opening remarks and introduce our keynote speaker, Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, the first openly gay Latino elected to Chicago City Council. I asked every first-year student in the room to raise their hands. We had first-years present from every corner of the university—the undergrad College, Social Service Admission, Harris School of Public Policy, Booth, even the Law School. Then I asked all of our returning students, alumni, faculty, staff, and all of our community partners to join me in letting them know—you got this.
That moment was about paying it forward. I wanted all of those entering Hispanic students to have unwavering confidence that they belong here, and that they have a strong, supportive family waiting for them within the University of Chicago community.
Hispanic Heritage Month was made possible through an Inclusive Climate grant, a grant program funded by the University of Chicago’s Diversity & Inclusion Initiative. The Request for Proposals was released in December of last year, and I knew immediately I would be submitting something.
Prior to Booth, I was in nonprofit fundraising for seven years. I wrote millions of dollars worth of grants on everything from housing discrimination to cognitive research on orangutans. It turned out that I was very good at convincing people to give me their money. It was my superpower. Perhaps not shockingly, that superpower was what eventually led me to business school. I was itching to put my cape back on.
I reached out to the Diversity Affairs office at Booth about my idea to develop a pan-university initiative, and they encouraged me to submit. My vision for the pilot was threefold: to celebrate the many meaningful contributions of the Hispanic diaspora and unify the growing University of Chicago Hispanic community; to connect the Hispanic network of the university with the broader Hispanic population of Chicago; and to ensure that this celebration laid the foundation for annualized programming.
I wrote the grant over the holiday break, submitted in early January and received notification of the award in the spring—leaving just enough time to create an application process, recruit a truly passionate planning committee, and begin organizing our events for the fall. The inaugural series received 346 registrations for its programming, and the events received 1,756 page views. The pilot also succeeded in engaging the local Hispanic community—20 percent of registrations were from members of the community or partner organizations.
Given the success of the pilot, we are currently in conversation with the University of Chicago to renew the initiative. We would like to establish Hispanic Heritage Month as a longstanding tradition, particularly as the Hispanic community continues to grow both within the institution and around the surrounding urban area. Dedicated, annualized programming creates the critical forums for the University to demonstrate that the Hispanic and larger immigrant community are active, essential contributors to its academic, professional, and extracurricular climate.
To future applicants and classes of Booth students, it is an incredible privilege to be accepted into such a resource-rich environment, and that privilege is not one that should be taken for granted. Share your story. Stay true to your community. And proactively leverage all of the resources that are available to you to leave this incredible institution even better than you found it.
You got this.
Maria del Toro also published an article about the University of Chicago’s Hispanic Heritage Month programming in the Chicago Business student newspaper.