A recent report by the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions highlighted the diversification of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country, but particularly in Texas. Home to nine HBCUs, Texas offers a unique context to explore the increasing diversity in HBCUs, as it is at the intersection of a booming Latina/o population and the HBCU network of the South. Texas HBCUs are slowly beginning to reflect the demographic reality of the state.
Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas is an Emerging Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), and St. Philip’s College in San Antonio, Texas is recognized as an HBCU and an HSI. In fact, seven of the top ten HBCUs with the highest percentage of Latina/o students are located in Texas. Latino representation in HBCUs is further demonstrated in the development of campus activities and student organizations established to promote Hispanic culture. For example, Texas HBCUs have hosted film, dance, art, food, and music events to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. In addition, Texas HBCUs have chartered Latina/o student associations, professional organizations, and Latina/o Greek Letter Organizations (LGLOs). Recently, Paul Quinn College made school history by crowning a Latina as Miss PQC – a first for its 86-year-old pageant.
To further understand the collegiate experience of Latina/o students enrolled in Texas HBCUs, I conducted two qualitative studies at two four-year HBCUs. The students in these studies shared opportunities and challenges they encountered at their institutions and offered suggestions for long-term strategies to support Latina/o students socially, culturally, and academically.
First, they highlighted the importance of educating students and families on the history and purpose of HBCUs. Some students shared they did not know they were attending a predominantly African American institution until their first day on campus. Early conversations in the recruitment process can inform students of the traditions and legacy of HBCUs and help counter “culture shock,” especially for Latina/o students from culturally homogenous communities. Orientation sessions, small groups, and mentoring programs can introduce buen ejemplos (role models) who can assist Latina/o students as they acclimate to a new college environment.
Second, Latina/o student associations, sororities, and fraternities can enrich the on-campus experience, but they present unique challenges as well. Several participants attempted to establish these organizations, but they became frustrated when the groups did not thrive. They also struggled to identify opportunities to fully participate in campus traditions (e.g., homecoming). These organizations and their budding leaders would benefit from extensive advisor support, leadership trainings, as well as on-campus programming collaborations to develop a sense of familia (family) and promote a strong sense of belonging.
In addition, students in LGLOs sometimes struggled to find their place on campus. Each LGLO has its distinct history, mission, national and regional organizational structure, and new member intake process. Therefore, their support and needs are different from National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternities and sororities that were founded at HBCUs and traditionally have Black members. Educating advisors and administrators and honoring the distinctions of LGLOs’ processes and procedures can better support the members and help Latina/o-founded sororities and fraternities prosper.
Finally, students expressed interest in increasing the Latina/o presence in classroom materials and discussions. Students greatly appreciated the welcoming and receptive faculty at their HBCU. They felt these close relationships would be strengthened if faculty had greater knowledge on Latina/o history and leaders. Although they enjoyed learning African American history and literature, the curriculum made them curious of Latina/o contributions to society and students yearned for more information on their own heritage. Acknowledging the diversity in the classroom and ensuring curricula reflect the backgrounds of students provide academic and interpersonal validation and foster a sense of comunidad (community).
Latina/o student success is a national imperative and especially critical as this population continues to struggle with degree completion. As the Latina/o population continues to grow, HBCUs, especially those in Texas, can offer a viable educational opportunity. Increased diversification has direct and indirect influences on campus culture, faculty and staff development, teaching and learning, and alumni relations, and HBCUs must be proactive and respond promptly and thoughtfully. Since each campus is unique, faculty and administrators should carefully consider their current policies and practices as their campus diversifies
Dr. Taryn O. Allen is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington (UT Arlington) and an affiliate of the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions.