My Experience at the Hispanic Summer Program: Jorge Rodriguez

Jorge J. Rodríguez V graduated with an MA from Union in 2016 and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Union in Modern Religious History, exploring the intersections of religion and colonialism/coloniality in the 19th and 20th century Americas. Below he shares his experience attending and working on staff at the Hispanic Summer Program.

If you are interested in applying for the Hispanic Summer Program 2021, click here. The deadline to apply is Monday, February 15.

What is your involvement with HSP and how did you get started with the program?

I’m the Associate Director for Strategic Programming at the Hispanic Summer Program (HSP). I started working with the HSP in 2014, my first semester as a Master of Arts student at Union. Dr. Daisy Machado, HSP’s Director, asked me if I’d consider running Social Media for the HSP as the previous Social Media Intern, the brilliant Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez, was transitioning out of the role.

That summer (2015), I attended my first summer session as both a student and Social Media Intern. I was amazed at what happened there. Sixty or so graduate students from across the country, the overwhelming majority Latinx, descended upon the Candler School of Theology at Emory University to take classes with seven world-class Latinx faculty members. During the day, I took courses with Union graduate and Iona College Professor Dr. Teresa Delgado, who was teaching a course on social ethics. After class, we would join together for a daily chapel where different faith traditions were centered in a communal gathering. During the day we also shared meals with faculty and students, and then at night, I would do homework and have fun with the new colleagues I met.

That year I helped coordinate our annual lecture. The guest was Dr. Cornel West who gave a talk and subsequent discussion with our HSP faculty on African American and Latinx history and struggle. Over 200 individuals from the greater Atlanta area joined the HSP at Candler School of Theology to hear from Dr. West and our faculty.

Over time, my responsibilities with HSP grew. Promoted from Social Media Intern to Social Media and Events Coordinator, I oversaw our digital footprint while simultaneously creating and establishing new programming and events.

In my new role as Associate Director of Strategic Programming, I’m excited to oversee some new initiatives while working with our amazing Director, Dr. Daisy Machado, and Program Administrator, Elizabeth Niang, to continue serving Latinx as well as non-Latinx graduate students of religion and theology as well as Latinx faculty and community partners from across the country.

What makes a program like this special or unique? What do the students and faculty end up taking away from it?

Without hyperbole, there is no program in the nation like the Hispanic Summer Program. Each summer, our flagship program brings together seminarians and graduate students of religion from across the country to take accredited classes taught by world-class Latinx faculty. Students are exposed to a majority Latinx environment which centers the cultural traditions of Latinx peoples as well as the intellectual traditions that have been birthed by our community.

In that incubator of the summer intensive, they expand their knowledge of the topic they are studying—whether it be the history of Latinx Muslims in the United States, the Religious and Philosophical Traditions of Afro-Latinxs, Pastoral Care responding to Inter-Generational Trauma, or a whole host of other amazing courses.

Outside of the classroom, students build bonds with a diverse group of peers from across the country, students from a wide range of religious, political, and theological views who might not have crossed paths were it not for the HSP. More than once we’ve had HSP students go on to pursue doctoral work with the Professor who taught their course or pursue ordination after the conversations and experiences they had at HSP. We’ve also had students build new community programs with other individuals who they’ve met at HSP.

HSP also has a faculty program. Tell me about that?

In addition to our flagship program we also coordinate a program for non-Latinx faculty, administrators, and staff called Through Hispanic Eyes (THE). This program encourages participants to explicitly examine how their institution does or does not support Latinx students and colleagues both inter-personally and systemically. Participants of THE, which have included individuals like Union’s own Dr. Sarah Azaransky (associate professor of Social Ethics), are then encouraged to develop tangible plans for responding to the inter-personal and systemic realities of their institutions. We also host our Latinx Discernment Workshop where students come from all walks of life to spend time intentionally reflecting on their next steps. From this program we’ve had clergy, doctoral students, community organizers, chaplains all solidify what they interpret to be there vocation and make tangible steps towards leaning fully into that call.

In no small part, we believe that every program run by the HSP has the capacity to facilitate the best of theological and higher education: transformation, community, and belonging.

What’s next for HSP?

HSP has been awarded a $1.8 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to expand the work of our organization. (https://hispanicsummerprogram.org/press-release/)

We’ve already started this work by launching our first ever Pedagogy Workshop for HSP faculty in February. We will gather all 2021 educators to discuss teaching-intensive, two-week seminars while reflecting on what they need Latinx faculty to grow and succeed. We’re also excited to have hired a new Social Media and Communications Consultant who will expand our digital footprint (more on this exciting news later!). And in a month or so we will begin expanding our national footprint through intentional development work.

What would you say to someone who is debating applying for this program? Any advice or tips for prospective students?

There is no other program in the country like the Hispanic Summer Program. Here you can earn 3-graduate credits for a subsidized rate while learning with world-class Latinx faculty in a Latinx majority learning setting that centers and privileges the cultural and intellectual traditions of Latinxs in the United States. We offer a unique experience that will enhance your graduate education, connect you to brilliant colleagues and educators while growing you as an intellectual, community member, and leader. You lose nothing by applying to the HSP and you have everything to gain!

The application is simple and only requires two letters of recommendation (https://hispanicsummerprogram.org/apply-for-our-programs/). If you are part of a sponsoring institution—including Union Theological Seminary (https://hispanicsummerprogram.org/sponsors/)—and it’s your first or second time attending the HSP, your fee will be substantially subsidized.

So, if you’re debating, I would say the “pros” are overwhelming and I look forward to seeing your application before the portal closes on February 15!

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