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Finding a Home on the Campus

Franklin Gomez Flores had just been accepted into his dream school. All of his hard work from four years at Jordan Matthews High School (JMHS) in Siler City, N.C., had paid off, and he was set to join the Wake Forest University class of 2016.

By Jared Weber

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Franklin Gomez Flores had just been accepted into his dream school. All of his hard work from four years at Jordan Matthews High School (JMHS) in Siler City, N.C., had paid off, and he was set to join the Wake Forest University class of 2016.

However, before he made it official, he realized that he would be the only one of his classmates, past or present, attending Wake Forest. He would have no connections.

He reconsidered.

“I based my decision off of who I knew, and nobody from Jordan-Matthews was going to Wake Forest,” Flores said. “But I knew there were a total of four Latinos and one African-American girl that came to Chapel Hill.”

Flores decided that UNC-Chapel Hill was the right place for him, and he accepted his admission there.

“When I got here, I really needed a family,” said Flores, a rising senior now at Carolina. “So that was the first thing I started doing. Just finding how I could have what I had at home.”

To the Latino people, family comes before all else. To feel comfortable, they like to surround themselves with the people they are close to.

In Flores’s case, he entered a completely new environment where only 9 percent of his peers came from a similar background. The adjustment to college was to be more significant for him than it would be for others.

His situation is familiar to Professor Paul Cuadros, chair and executive director of the University of North Carolina’s (UNC) Latino Scholars Initiative.

“I think it is the case because many of them are first-time college students,” he said. “So many first-time college goers go through all of these different kinds of struggles adjusting to college life. That goes for Latinos and anybody else whose family members have never gone to college before.”

Cuadros has unique experiences with students who have made this transition.

In 1999, he earned a prestigious fellowship to investigate the influx of Latino families emigrating into poultry-processing towns in the southeast United States. He made his home in Siler City and began coaching a Latino soccer team and has been the head coach for more than a decade. The school has won the state championship.

Cuadros has melded the minds of many young men and women, including his former goalkeeper, Flores, and has been instrumental in helping students get into college. Through the soccer team, players grew very close and established a community.

Another one of Cuadros’ soccer players, Daniel Estrada, is a rising sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill. When his mother was pregnant with him, his parents moved to Siler City to escape gang activity in Los Angeles, Calif.

Estrada believes that there are positive, what could be called, “gangs” on campus that “help students be closer within the community,” instead of steer them in the wrong direction.

“I can see a social group, like a fraternity or a sorority, being sort of like a gang in a way,” Estrada said, “except the groups here on campus would be for positive relief instead of negative relief.”

Both men have been able to feel at home on the UNC-CH campus. Flores is working as an assistant with Uplift PLUS, a six-week summer program that helps participants become familiar with the campus and coursework. Estrada is a member of CHispA, the university’s student-run Hispanic association.

Cuadros believes these kinds of groups go a long way in helping students fit in and eventually succeed at the university.

“Those kinds of things allow those kids to get a home footing on campus here at Carolina,” he said. “That is important because it really helps to address the issue of retention and being able to graduate here in four or five years.”

Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Education