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Faculty_Focus

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Garcia
School of Social Work professor Alejandro Garcia, an expert on such topics as Latino families, Latino elderly, and HIV/AIDS, teaches students to embrace diversity and celebrate who they are.





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Faculty_Focus

Promoting an Appreciation
for Diversity

School of Social Work professor Alejandro Garcia does more than teach people to understand diversity. He lives it through involvement with initiatives that help people appreciate those different from themselves.

Garcia, who has been on the SU faculty since 1978, teaches the course Human Diversity; advises a Latino fraternity; produces books about such topics as Latino families, Latino elderly, and HIV/AIDS; writes on these and other issues like the Confederate flag debate and the anti-gay murder of Matthew Shepard; and speaks to various groups about diversity issues. "I try to make myself available to any group on campus or elsewhere," he says. "It’s important to me."

Promoting an appreciation for diversity begins with understanding and appreciating oneself, Garcia believes. He finds that his students, most of whom are non-Hispanic whites, often don’t know much about their ethnic backgrounds. "They don’t know who they are," he says. "I try to help them know, appreciate, celebrate, and accept themselves. I encourage people to celebrate who they are."

Garcia, who grew up in southern Texas and earned a doctorate in welfare policy from Brandeis University’s Heller School, also wants his students to become aware of their biases, beginning with the assumption that all people have them. "We’re socialized that way," he says. "Some biases we’re conscious of, others we aren’t." Once his students start to understand their own biases, they begin to understand people of other cultures and ethnic backgrounds, he says.

During the nearly 15 years that Garcia has taught the diversity course, its focus has widened with society’s concerns. When he began, he taught mainly about racial and ethnic diversity. Since then, he has added gender issues and sexual orientation to the list of topics.

One way Garcia celebrates his own Mexican-American heritage is by advising Phi Iota Alpha, a Latino fraternity on campus. "It was important for them to have a Latino advisor," he says.

One of Garcia’s most recent books, La Familia: Traditions and Realities, deals with issues faced by elderly Hispanics, and the special support they need. It was edited with Marta Sotomayor, and published by the National Hispanic Council on Aging. "This is a growing population with important needs," he says, "including health care, housing, and income management." When dealing with Hispanic seniors, more emphasis is placed on helping their families care for them at home rather than in nursing homes, Garcia says. This is because the elderly have important roles in Latino families: mediating family disputes, socializing grandchildren, and passing on family and cultural history.

Garcia’s interest in HIV/AIDS resulted in another book, HIV Affected and Vulnerable Youth: Prevention Issues and Approaches, which he co-edited with School of Social Work colleague Susan Taylor-Brown. "We’re very concerned about children in families with members who have HIV or AIDS," he says. "How do we help these young people and prevent them from self-destructing or becoming infected themselves? We need to help them face the disease and the prejudice that exists against persons with HIV/AIDS."

This issue is especially important to people of color in this country, Garcia says, because more than 80 percent of women and children who have HIV/AIDS are African American or Hispanic. He also worries that many people consider the AIDS crisis a thing of the past, because new drugs can make the disease chronic rather than fatal. Not only does the drug regimen not work for everyone, he points out, but the cost is prohibitive for people who are poor or without health insurance.

Garcia tackles these and other issues in Knight-Ridder News Service syndicated op-ed columns he pens with fellow social work professors Taylor-Brown and Eric Kingson. Garcia knows many readers disagree with their viewpoints, but that’s OK with him. "We simply present a point of view," he says. "We want to help people think about a perspective that may be different from their own."
                                                     —CYNTHIA MORITZ



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