The University of La Verne celebrated its federal designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution last week, creating a university-wide dialogue on what merits an HSI designation beyond a population quota.
At the week’s core was an exploration of identity for the University as a whole and the more underrepresented groups on campus.
“As an academic enterprise, we need to learn about not only ourselves, but about each other,” said Daniel Loera, director of multicultural affairs and the former president of the Southern California Consortium of Hispanic Institutions.
This year the Latino undergraduate population reached 48 percent at the University — above the 25 percent figure required to be designated an HSI.
Schools designated as an HSI by the Department of Education gain access to additional Title V funding.
In addition to funding, the HSI designation has changed the expectation for how a small school like the University should facilitate under-represented or otherwise underprivileged students, Loera said.
“Often times campuses that are identified as Hispanic serving institutions—they are primarily Hispanic enrolling institutions, but not necessarily Hispanic serving institutions,” he said.
“We’ve sort of jumped the gun a little bit in saying that we’re serving, but we’ve never really identified or clarified what serving means. We want to know, in the experience of the students—do they feel served?”
Other University staff and faculty said they agreed with Loera.
Rocio Rosales-Meza, associate professor of psychology, said the University has admitted more Hispanic students, but that does not necessarily mean the institution goes out of its way to reach out to the Hispanic community.
High Hispanic admission correlates with the large Hispanic population in the area. She said similar patterns are seen across the nation.
“That is an area that as a nation that we have to do better in if we want our Latino students to succeed,” Rosales-Meza said.
“I think we’ve improved in many areas, so we have a lot more Latinos going to college, but we still don’t have the same amount that come in the first year. They don’t always graduate.”
A key to a higher retention rate among Latino students is hiring more multicultural full-time or tenure faculty, she said.
“The research is clear and says that Latino faculty and faculty of color are important to Latino students to graduate, for them to persist, for them to feel like they belong on campus,” Rosales-Meza said.
It is important for Latino students to see that higher education is not exclusive and people of color can accomplish it as well, she said.
The University needs to develop more programs that support under represented students in general, said Marisol Morales, Director of Civic and Community Engagement.
One such implementation many faculty members spoke about was a multicultural center, where students could gather and explore lineages other than their own.
Director of Diversity and Inclusivity Joy Lei worked at the University of California Santa Cruz, where she recalled several of these centers serving as safe spaces for Asian American, Chicano, Native American and LGBT students. But for a small campus like the University such an array of centers might not be logistically viable, she said.
“We can at the very least expand the current office of multicultural services to a center that will have more people who can provide more services for the different cultural groups,” Lei said.
“My goal with this is to keep the dialogue open and respectful, and I hope people can help me with this, because I’m sure it’s not only my goal.”
Mariela Patron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.