Emerging Hispanic Serving Institutions’ Readiness for Student Success

Hispanic Community August 2023 PREMIUM
Emerging Hispanic Serving Institutions (EHSIs) are increasing in number, and this growth is leading institutional leaders and stakeholders to focus on creating an inclusive environment for Latinx/e students to succeed. Consequently, adopting a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) framework to improve student success and implementing measurable goals for inclusivity are key aspects of becoming a successful HSI.

Written by Azara Santiago Rivera and Patricia Arredondo

Emerging Hispanic Serving Institutions (EHSIs) continue to be on the rise. In the most recent report produced by Excelencia in Education, there were 401 public and private institutions with Latinx/e undergraduate enrollment of 15-24.9%, and located in 43 states (Excelencia, 2023). This is up from 362 institutions in 2019-20. The unprecedented growth of EHSIs is forcing institutional leaders and stakeholders to examine their readiness to create an environment where Latinx/e students can thrive and succeed. In other words, these EHSIs must put in place a plan with measurable outcomes for being “Hispanic serving” and not just “Hispanic receiving.”

The Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) framework is becoming a central tenet in strategic planning efforts in all institutions of higher education. Such efforts include hiring a chief diversity officer, integrating diversity-related institutional goals across units and functional areas, and assessing  how various units across the campus integrate DEIB principles and practices in their existing policies and programs. Critical to DEIB is designing a mechanism to assess impact and culture changes (El-Amin, 2022; Stanley, Watson, Reyes & Varela, 2019).

The purpose of this paper is to elaborate on DEIB principles and practices specific to HSIs and emerging HSIs. Ways to integrate a DEIB framework that can improve student success, including ways to prepare the campus community (e.g., faculty staff, stakeholders) for a climate of inclusion and belonging are explored.

Basic Principles of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

The emphasis on diversity in the workplace and higher education, with a student focus, began in the late 1980s. The early goals have not changed much; institutions still want to increase Latinx student enrollment and success, providing greater access and equitable support. However, what has changed is  increased efforts for inclusion and belonging. In brief, the terms will be defined with a Latinx/e student focus.

Diversity. There is still a desire for human diversity that provides representation of individuals from different identity groups. It is also about heterogeneity, not homogeneity, with the basic principle that diversity is not just for persons of color. Specific to Latinx/e college students, there needs to be a recognition of the diversity or heterogeneity within group differences. No two Latinx/e students are alike because all hold intersecting identities that make each individual unique.

Equity. Equity is aspirational but requires planned practices at interpersonal and systems levels. At an EHSI, it means that every student should have a fair opportunity to succeed, minimally, in getting into college. If there are too many systemic barriers, such as a complicated admissions process or insufficient help with the financial aid application, a Latinx/e student  may give up on applying to college. Because equity does not mean equality or sameness, the university administration must also review systems and programs in place to advance student retention, information about financial aid, and dedicated academic advisors.

Inclusion and Belonging. These concepts have taken on heightened attention, primarily in work settings. For example, in universities, this occurs through employee resource groups for Latinxs, African Americans, LGBTQI+, and so forth. Latinx/e student centers are places where students can mingle with peers for social and academic benefit. Though these centers exist, their purpose to advance student success must be a priority. There are multiple opportunities to provide inclusion; the classroom is one. The faculty plays an essential role in making students feel welcomed, understood, and valued. Getting to know a student through after-class conversation is one easy way to communicate a sense of belonging.

Intersectionality of Multiple Identities

Recognizing the intersecting identities of Latinx students is fundamental to creating a sense of belonging and inclusion. The “Latino Dimensions of Personal Identity” model (Santiago-Rivera, Arredondo & Gallardo-Cooper, 2002) outlines the ways Latinx/es are unique individuals. Different dimensions of identity include national origin, colorism, language(s) spoken, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, economic status of self or parents, geographic location, veteran status, religious affiliation, and documentation status. There is considerable discussion about the needs of Latinx/e first generation students, but no two first-gen students are alike. EHSIs need to work with individuals, not group identities. Likewise, Casellas Connors (2021) uses a combination of Critical Race Theory (Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller & Thomas, 1995) and LatCrit theory (Pérez-Huber, 2010) to emphasize that DEIB efforts must not lose sight of the intersectionality of multiple identities in developing and implementing initiatives. Moreover, Critical Race Theory and LatCrit theory provide the lens to understand how race, racism, language, immigration status, and acculturation inform Latinx/e college success.

Assessment of DEIB Efforts   

Conducting climate surveys, a common practice in higher education, has become increasingly valuable because they can determine the extent to which faculty, students, and staff not only value diversity but also feel a sense of belonging (Stanley et al., 2018). Moreover, EHSIs can consider developing a method of assessing their readiness to ensure Latinx/e student success using a DEIB lens. For example, the University of Northern Colorado created an inventory to assess DEI campus-wide efforts and its readiness to become an HSI. The report produced important findings regarding awareness of, investment into, and implementation of DEI efforts on  campus (Hawes & Conner, 2022). It is recommended that EHSIs consider a similar approach.

Building an Inclusive Campus Climate for Student Success

Having an HSI designation means that the commitment to Latinx student success is long-term. Measurable goals for creating an inclusive climate must be articulated across the institution. Essentially, Latinx/e students will thrive if everyone is held accountable, not just the campus personnel associated with student services. To be an HSI in practice begins with an audit of services in place, utilization rates of such services, and the retention and graduate rate of students. If services are not being used, invite students for a listening session and learn why. Students will be the best informants on how to build an inclusive campus climate for their success. Likewise, building an inclusive campus climate involves intentional efforts to recruit, develop, and retain a diverse faculty and staff.

About the authors:

Azara Santiago Rivera is Professor Emerita and former Director of the Clinical Mental Health Program at Merrimack College. She is currently teaching at William Paterson University. With over 30 years of higher education experience as a faculty and administrator, she’s the author of numerous publications addressing the mental health needs of Latinx/e communities. She is chair of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education.

Patricia Arredondo is President of the Arredondo Advisory Group with extensive experience in higher education and business sector. She was a higher education leader at Arizona State University, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. An author of numerous publications addressing workforce diversity, women’s leadership, and cultural competency, she served two terms (2019-2022) as the chair of the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education.


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