‘Fundamentally redefine campus culture’: UC Berkeley works toward Hispanic-Serving Institution status

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Deemed one of campus’s “boldest goals” by Chancellor Carol Christ, the Hispanic-Serving Institution, or HSI, initiative has come to a standstill while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Christ adopted the White House initiative in 2018. In order to be an HSI, an institution must serve a specific number of FAFSA-eligible students, and at least 25% of its full-time students must identify as Hispanic, according to ASUC Senator-Elect Sahvannah Rodriguez.

In fall 2019, approximately 16% of students on campus identified as Hispanic, a 1% increase from 2018, according to statistics from campus’s Office of Planning and Analysis.

Campus hopes to meet HSI eligibility by 2027. To assist the process, Christ created a task force to assess how campus meets HSI requirements, identify investment opportunities to serve Chicanx and Latinx community members and create a campuswide engagement plan, according to the task force’s website.

The task force hosted listening sessions in February to get student input as well as plans to reach out to underapplying Latinx communities in California, according to member and campus student Adrian Frias. Campus lecturer and task force member Pablo Gonzalez said the group also attended a conference at UC Santa Cruz to gain insight about its first year as an HSI.

“All of that first stage was dedicated to organizing a report back to the chancellor on what would be some of the first initial steps toward making us HSI eligible, since right now, we’re way far behind from that,” Gonzalez said.

Frias noted that COVID-19 has postponed many of the task force’s plans.

While a portion of the initiative relies on the administration and its task force, campus’s path to becoming an HSI also involves students.

Students in the Latinx Caucus spread awareness through community meetings and flyers about what it means to be an HSI and how the initiative would benefit underrepresented communities on campus.

“At our semesterly meetings with the Chancellor and other members of her administration, we have also routinely asked about HSI efforts and applied pressure on the administration to prioritize Latinx student needs in regards to campus safety, space allocation, and funding,” the Latinx Caucus said in an emailed statement.

Another hub for Latinx student activism is in the ASUC.

Outgoing senator Pedro De Anda Plascencia ran, in part, on a platform of support and student coordination for the HSI initiative. He added that it is important to continue the conversation around the recruitment and retention of Latinx students.

“If you look at statistics of the amount of students of color who enter the university and the amount of students who actually graduate, it’s really disproportionate,” De Anda Plascencia said. That’s something that we always wanted to bring up to admin to ensure that they were cognizant of that in their efforts moving forward.”

To promote advocacy despite the lack of Latinx-endorsed ASUC senators in the 2018-2019 school year, the ASUC also created an HSI Community Advisory Committee, according to chair Ivan Hernandez.

Hernandez said, despite COVID-19-related setbacks, the committee continues to engage diverse student leaders to promote “cross-cultural solidarity” and debunk misconceptions about funding allocations.

“HSI designation brings an increase in federal funding that benefits all students,” Hernandez said in an email. “These funds cannot be used to benefit a specific ethnic minority group. Therefore, the money can be used to strengthen institutional programs, facilities, and services to expand educational opportunities for all underrepresented minority groups.”

Becoming an HSI is “imperative” for all students to thrive on campus, according to Hernandez. Hernandez added that an HSI designation would allow campus to “fundamentally redefine” its culture and re-evaluate its treatment of vulnerable students.

Contact Veronica Roseborough at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @v_roseborough.