LBJ School students host inaugural Latino Policy Research Symposium

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April 12, 2024
Two mariachi musicians stand in front of the flag posts on LBJ Plaza

The inaugural Latino Policy Research Symposium, led by students of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, delved into pressing issues affecting the Latino community in Texas and across the United States. Held on April 5, the event explored topics ranging from immigration policies and healthcare disparities to environmental justice, education, and the 2024 election.

"The Latino Policy Research Symposium was our opportunity to showcase research on how Latino communities are affected by and factor into policy," said Darla Torres, an Master of Global Policy Studies May 2024 graduate and student co-chair of the event. "It was important to me to have this event because a large portion of Texas constituents are Latino, and our programming at a top policy school should reflect that."

"Education policies have played a consequential role in my life," said Gladys Acosta, a student co-chair of the inaugural symposium and a May 2024 Master of Public Affairs graduate. "I was 19 years old when I became a first-generation Latina college graduate. I am a product of Texas public schools, born in the borderland and raised by an immigrant, low-income family. I am proud of the values instilled in me, which drive my commitment to reform our state’s education system. This is what motivated me to be a part of LBJ's Inaugural Latino Policy Symposium Steering Committee. I believe it is imperative I work towards ensuring that the same opportunities I was afforded are available and further expanded for anyone who wants to make advances in their personal and professional lives."

"Being a Latina graduate student at the LBJ School has allowed me to continue the quest I began 21 years ago when I walked across the stage to receive my Kindergarten diploma," said Acosta. "A journey not only for me but for my family and my community. I have come this far to advocate for every one of the 5.5 million students in Texas public schools with a dream, regardless of their background. They are the future I work for as a public servant and as a policy student."

A mariachi singer performs on the LBJ Plaza


The student-organized symposium fostered skills in collaboration, problem-solving and teamwork among the attendees."What an incredible way to end my time at LBJ," stated Torres. "I also could not believe that we, as students, were given the chance to make something like this happen so I definitely wanted to be a part of it."

Notable discussions included an examination of healthcare access barriers, a reflection on Latino identities in the U.S., and an exploration of educational opportunities for Latino students. With esteemed panelists and moderators, the symposium provided a platform for insightful dialogue and empowered attendees to engage with critical policy issues impacting Latino communities. 

"One of the biggest takeaways from the symposium for me was that, while there is a lot about our Latinidad that brings us together, Latinos are not a monolith," said Torres. "It was an incredible honor to work with my fellow LBJ students and learn about their own unique backgrounds, what brought them to LBJ, and what the symposium meant to them."

LPRS attendees enjoy a performance by a mariachi band.

"I hope attendees walked away empowered to become engaged in the democratic process," said Acosta. "As the largest ethnic group in Texas, the Latino voice is critical in discussions around policies that impact our lives. If we do not participate, we will not be included at the table when it matters. I hope attendees understood the collective power  we can be in influencing policies, as well as their role in our democracy, because while change does not happen overnight, events like these are what create conversations in the community, which is where change actually begins and spreads."

 "I'm really going to miss working with my peers to make these incredible moments happen at the LBJ School!"

-- Darla Torres (MGPS '24)


About the Co-Chairs

LBJ School students host inaugural Latino Policy Research Symposium.
Latino Policy Research Symposium co-chairs Darla Torres (left) and Gladys Acosta (MPAff '24, right).

Gladys Acosta, an LBJ School MPAff candidate, is poised to graduate in this upcoming May commencement ceremony. Raised by her Mexican immigrant family in the borderland of El Paso, TX, she distinguished herself academically, graduating as valedictorian from Valle Verde Early College High School. In 2015, she attained her associate’s degree from El Paso Community College with summa cum laude honors. As a first-generation Latina college graduate, she achieved her Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Studies with a concentration in Political Communication, alongside a minor in Latin American Studies and a certificate in Latino Media Studies, earning highest honors from the Moody College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin at the age of 19. Alongside her graduate studies, Gladys serves full-time as a Legislative Director in the Texas House of Representatives, focusing her policy expertise on public education, including school finance, curriculum development, assessments, and accountability.

Darla Torres is a second-year graduate student at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs pursuing a Masters in Global Policy Studies under the Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship. Born in Cuba and raised in Miami, she attended Williams College for her undergraduate studies and obtained a degree in Mathematics. Her work-study experiences were spent teaching Spanish and Science at the local schools and inspired her to work in South Korea for three years as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant after college. Her work in South Korea began at an all-boys high school in Gimhae, Gyeongsangnam-do, and ended with her last year of the grant at the Seoul Science High School. Darla will join the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer when she graduates from the LBJ School. She hopes to channel her passion for education and cultural exchange to connect with others abroad and in her future work as a diplomat.

Steering Committee

The Latino Policy Research Symposium student steering committee.

Gladys Acosta (MPAff '24) & Darla Torres (MGPS '24), Co-Chairs
Adolfo Cervantes (MPAff-DC '24) & Geraldine Fandiño (MPAff '25), Vice-Chairs
Raul “Neto" Longoria (MPAff '25), Logistics Director
Yulissa Chavez (MPAff '24), Marketing Director
Ali Linan (MPAff, MBA '26), Secretary
Jose Silva (MPAff '24), Unidos Co-Chair
Oriana Lozano Castro (MGPS '25), Panel Coordinator
Edgar Felix (MPAff '25), Panel Coordinator
Marlene G. Plua (MPAff, CRP '25), Panel Coordinator

Symposium Speakers

Speakers address the attendees of the Latino Policy Research Symposium.


Fernando Garcia, Executive Director, Border Network for Human Rights
The Honorable Eddie Morales Jr, TX State Rep (HD 74– Eagle Pass)
Tony Payan, Director, Rice University Baker Institute Center for the United States and Mexico
Ana Oaxaca Carrasco, UT Provost Early Career Fellow, LBJ School of Public Affairs
Perla Cavazos, Deputy Administrator, Central Health; Deborah Parra-Medine, Executive Director, Center for Health Equity, University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Sciences Campus
The Honorable David Stout, County Commissioner Pct. 2 – El Paso
Jacqueline L. Angel, Wilbur J. Cohen Professor of Health and Social Policy and Professor of Sociology
Chris Cutkelvin, Director of Student Access and Civic Education, LBJ School of Public Affairs
Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, Professor, Moody College of Communication; Director, Center for Mexican American Studies; Director of the VOCES - Oral History Project
Paul Saldaña, President and Principal, Saldaña Public Relations
The Honorable Gina Hinojosa, TX State Representative, HD 49-Austin; Chair, House Democratic Campaign Committee (HDCC)
Richard Pineda, Associate Professor, Department of Communication; Director, Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies, The University of Texas at El Paso
The Honorable Jason Villalba, Chairman and CEO, Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation
Angie Gutierrez, Assistant Professor, Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
Susana Almanza, Executive Director, PODER; Jaime Longoria, Executive Director, Hidalgo County Community Service Agency
Miriam Solis, Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Planning, UT Austin
Miguel A. Pavon, Adjunct Professor, LBJ School, UT Austin
Isela Almaguer, Houston Endowed Chair, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
Jacob Cottingham, Senior Director, Government Relations, Texas Association of Community Colleges
Julia Cuevas-Guerra, Assistant Professor, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
Matias Segura, Superintendent, Austin Independent School District
Chloe Sikes, Deputy Director of Policy, Intercultural Development Research Association

Click here for more photos of the inaugural Latino Policy Research Symposium. Click here for a complete schedule of the completed 2024 symposium.

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