U honors diversity

Jesús Estrada-Pérez identifies himself in many ways: heâÄôs a Mexican immigrant, the first in his family to attend college, an honors student and someone who identifies himself as queer. Now, heâÄôs also an award winning activist. On Thursday, he was among the 13 undergraduate and graduate students honored for their efforts on behalf of diversity and social justice issues. The students won between $1,000 and $2,500 each, and awards were presented during the first University of Minnesota Equity and Diversity Breakfast Thursday in the McNamara Alumni Center . More than 500 people attended the event. Corporations, community organizations, members of the University community and alumni all contributed money for the awards. Rusty Barceló, vice president and vice provost for the Office for Equity and Diversity , said this is the first year the Scholarly Excellence in Equity and Diversity awards were given out. They were created to bring greater visibility to the work being done through the University on these issues, she said. She said the University has taken on a number of new initiatives to improve the college experience for diverse students. Such efforts include Access to Success, a program in its first year that offers support for selected first-year students whose high school rank and test scores donâÄôt fit the typical profile of University students . She also acknowledged that the University needs to work on enrolling more Chicano, Latino and American Indian undergraduates. Of the undergraduates enrolled at the University in fall 2008, 4.9 percent are African American and 9.7 percent are Asian/Pacific Islander. Only 2.2 percent of students are Chicano/Latino, and less than 1 percent are American Indian. Estrada-Pérez , a senior majoring in cultural studies, received the PresidentâÄôs SEED award for Outstanding Scholar-Activism . As an ambassador last year for the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence , he was a mentor for incoming first-year students. Outside the University, heâÄôs volunteered and done research at La Escuelita, a Minneapolis afterschool program for Latino youth. HeâÄôs also done research on Latino parents in the Twin Cities. The son of a factory-worker, single father who immigrated with his family from Mexico when he was 4, Estrada-Pérez was the first in his family to attend college, he said. When his high school friends started applying to colleges, he decided to follow their lead, although he now says he was clueless when it came to college. âÄúI had never met anyone who was Latino and who was actually in college until I came here,âÄù he said. ItâÄôs important to him to serve as a role model for students from diverse backgrounds, because students need to have relatable role models, he said. âÄúIf you see yourself and see that someone else had made it in college and is thriving, then that gives you hope,âÄù he said. Some student groups and University representatives were on hand at the breakfast as well. Beng Chang, a Queer Student Cultural Center officer and a graduate assistant with the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Ally Programs Office , attended. Chang said after getting involved with the QSCC, he felt he needed to support other queer students of color because of his involvement with the QSCC. Students often need to take it upon themselves to create greater awareness, he said. The College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences was also recognized at the breakfast for its equity and diversity work. The event was presented by the Office for Equity and Diversity, which represents a number of groups.