Racial Inclusivity at Hispanic Serving Institutions

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Alyse Gray Parker

Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) are here to stay. In the United States, HSIs account for 492 universities in 21 states and Puerto Rico. This number will continue to grow. According to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), there are 333 “emerging” HSIs, where full-time Hispanic students make up 15-24.9% of total enrollment.

As the number of HSIs continues to rise, so will the diversity of students these institutions serve. HSIs range from large flagship universities to local community colleges and small private universities. As a Black student attending an HSI —The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), I have reflected on my experiences attending an institution and living in a city where many people have brown skin like me, but aren’t like me. This experience has been enlightening, exciting, frustrating and deeply perceptive, all at once. There are probably many other Black students attending HSIs that are having similar experiences. However, that experience does not need to be a negative one. HSIs have the ability to serve many populations of students who are often underrepresented in higher education.

At UTSA, Black students make up 9% of the student population. Hispanic students make up 53% of the student population. For HSIs like UTSA where the student population is of a similar makeup, their challenge is making an inclusive environment for not only their majority Hispanic student population, but other underrepresented students. This can be difficult, as it can easily become an argument of who is more marginalized. Further, many HSIs are still Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). To address these complexities, institutions can be deliberate in facilitating meaningful conversations that result in real change.

Different views of intergroup race relations on campuses that are majority Hispanic are another aspect to the conversation of racial inclusivity. A 2008 study by Pew research found through a survey on intergroup relations that a majority of Black and Hispanic respondents said the groups get along very or fairly well, but Hispanics were significantly more likely than Blacks to say that intergroup relations were strained. While this is just one piece of research on the specific inter-group relations, it can lead us to consider and even understand why certain conversations may or may not occur between the two groups on campus. Partnerships between different student cultural groups or offices on campus can facilitate these conversations while simultaneously encouraging university support and inclusivity of all students.

Further research on Black students at HSIs can also assist in moving the conversation forward. For example in their 2012 chapter, Richard Reddick and Julian Vaquez write about how the impact of attending an HSI affects Black male students through a qualitative lens[1]. They found that black male students found their own community at their institution and still had to navigate institutional and systemic racism in the higher education system. Additional research focused on these topics can help our understanding of how HSIs serve multiple populations of students.

HSIs are in a position to become champions of student diversity and inclusion in today’s higher education landscape. Having a Black face in a brown space myself, I have taken the opportunity to learn about cultures I did not have access to before – especially coming from Central Ohio where the student population can look quite homogenous, especially on a college campus. Administrators, faculty, and staff at HSIs should create spaces for intergroup dialogue focused on race. Open dialogue on issues such as race can help students empathize with and relate to one another on an individualized level as well as create community.

Large or small, public or private, HSIs are diverse in both institutional makeup and student population. It can be easy to leave out students on campus regardless of student population size, but HSIs have a unique opportunity to serve as an environment to develop innovative and inclusive diversity practices. Yes, many students at HSIs are students of color, but we must remember that there is diversity among students of color. Taking advantage of this opportunity will be key for leaders at HSIs to continue successful outcomes at their institutions.

[1] Reddick, R. J., Heilig, J. V., & Valdez, P. L. (2012). Bridging a Black-Brown Divide: Black Male Students at Hispanic-Serving Institutions In A. A. Hilton, J. L. Wood, & C. W. Lewis (Eds.), Black males in postsecondary education: Examining their experiences in diverse institutional contexts, (pp. 183-208). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Alyse Gray Parker is currently a Ph.D. student at The University of Texas at San Antonio in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies with a concentration in Higher Education. Alyse has previously worked as a policy intern with the Lumina Foundation, at Trinity University in the Office of Disability Services and as a school psychologist for Columbus City Schools in Columbus, Ohio. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Alyse completed her B.A. and M.A. at The Ohio State University. Her research interests include federal and state higher education policy related to affordability, Minority Serving Institutions, and access and equity issues in higher education.