SUNY’s Hispanic Leadership Institute

Hispanic Community August 2023 PREMIUM
The State University of New York (SUNY), committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion aims at increasing Hispanic/Latinx representation in leadership positions within higher education through its Hispanic Leadership Institute (HLI), which was established to uplift and support Hispanic/Latinx faculty. HLI's success has led to the creation of a similar Black Leadership Institute.

A Model for Increasing Representation and Supporting Emerging Leaders

As the largest comprehensive system of public higher education in the country, the State University of New York, driven by the vision of Chancellor John B. King, Jr. and the SUNY Board of Trustees, is proud to say diversity, equity, and inclusion are a part of everything we do. We know representation matters, especially in leadership roles and in the classroom. Hispanic enrollment in higher education has grown significantly over the past few decades, from 1.5 million in 2000 to 3.8 million in 2019, according to the Pew Research Center.

However, the same growth has not been realized in the number of Hispanics in leadership roles and teaching in classrooms. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, around 9.4% of teachers identify as Hispanic. Despite accounting for nearly 20% of the U.S. population, Hispanics hold less than 5% of executive positions across the country.  

 Because of low representation in leadership positions, Hispanics often feel they do not belong in such roles or are not valued adequately once they achieve them. Having more representation will help foster a shift toward diversity in both attitude and reality in the fastest-growing population segment in the country, which will, in turn, benefit our nation. As a nation of immigrants, our diversity has always strengthened us.

To meet the goal of becoming a more inclusive university system, SUNY leadership understands that, in addition to faculty and staff, we must employ leaders at the highest levels who share experiences and cultures with those who comprise the fastest-growing demographic of its student population: students who will become our next generation of Hispanic/Latinx leaders. This is why the Hispanic Leadership Institute was established.

Since 2017, thanks to generous support from New York State and the State Assembly’s Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force, SUNY’s Hispanic Leadership Institute has uplifted 60 of our brightest Hispanic/Latinx faculty and staff. The program ensures that Hispanics/Latinx are not only represented at the table but feel they belong, are valued, and can make a difference in leadership roles.

The annual selection of Fellows by the HLI Steering Committee is a rigorous and competitive process that starts with each applicant’s nomination by his or her respective campus leadership. In November 2022, SUNY announced the newest cohort of nine individuals who later graduated from the HLI program in June 2023.

The HLI Fellows have represented 27 SUNY campuses, including our university centers and doctoral-degree-granting institutions, comprehensive colleges, technical colleges, community colleges, and System Administration. They also represent a wide diversity of faculty and administrative positions, as well as diverse Hispanic/Latinx backgrounds.

HLI was a critical driving force for one such Fellow, Dante Cantú, vice president and dean of student affairs at Westchester Community College, SUNY’s first Hispanic-Serving institution. Over his 20-plus-year career in higher education, Dante has been a champion of student success and was selected to join HLI in 2022. Cantú credits HLI with enhancing his “capacity as a mission-driven leader during a time of accelerated change and adaptation.”

The goal of SUNY’s HLI is to identify, foster, and support the development and retention of current and emerging Hispanic/Latinx “mission-driven” leaders. It strives to increase the engagement, competitiveness, and participation of Hispanic/Latinx leaders for SUNY, New York State, and national leadership roles. This, in turn, will contribute to greater awareness of the need to foster the development of more Hispanic/Latinx leaders.

The HLI is housed within SUNY’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), which recently appointed a new senior vice chancellor for DEI and chief diversity officer, Dr. Ricardo Nazario-Colón.

HLI is a hybrid program developed in collaboration with the SUNY SAIL Institute. HLI Fellows have the unique opportunity to meet with distinguished Hispanic/Latinx leaders from SUNY and the community at large, both locally and nationally; work with mentors; expand their network; and build connections. HLI creates a pipeline for professional opportunities across SUNY, and ensures alumni are networking and receiving ongoing support and mentorship well after they graduate from the program.

Fellows selected for the program undergo a rigorous six-month process that provides SUNY faculty and staff of Hispanic descent the opportunity to further develop higher education and leadership skills. These skills are crucial if we are to succeed in our mission to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion flow through every decision made both on SUNY campuses across New York State and at SUNY System Administration in Albany, NY.

A key component of HLI is combatting “imposter syndrome,” something many of the fellows in each class say they have experienced. Imposter syndrome affects many people but is more prevalent in Black and Hispanic individuals. It is a feeling that, despite past successes, these individuals are “frauds” and fear they cannot be their true selves because of societal pressures inside and outside the workplace.

Programs like HLI celebrate marginalized communities and propel racially diverse individuals to further success, which is now more important than ever. HLI does not just work to support its Fellows and alumni, but to show that higher education and leadership roles are places where Hispanic and Latinx people belong.

Thanks to the immense success of HLI, the 2024 New York State budget allocated funds toward creating SUNY’s first Black Leadership Institute. Modeled after HLI, this new institute will provide emerging leaders within SUNY an opportunity to further develop higher education leadership skills and proficiencies. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are central to everything we do at SUNY, and via programs like the Hispanic Leadership Institute, we are working towards a more equitable and diverse system of public higher education for all. •

About the author: 

HLI is under the guidance of Assistant Vice Chancellor for Presidential Searches and Development Zulaika Rodriguez-Awoliyi. She is an expert in professional development who leads the SUNY system’s presidential recruitment work. 


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