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Monday, February 26, 2024

Success of Center for Chicanx and Latinx Academic Student Success


Center for Chicanx and Latinx Academic Student Success offers robust resources, support for students

On September 27, 2017, the Center for Chicanx and Latinx Academic Student Success opened its doors to the UC Davis community. Since its grand opening, the center’s check-in system has already accounted for roughly 10,000 students coming through its doors.

“Our main responsibility and mission is academic-based — we want to be a space to academically support our Chicanx and Latinx students from first year up to when they graduate,” said Cirilo Cortez, the director of CCLASS. “I reach out to the students that are not in good standing so they can come in here and use the services, get them up to speed, and acquainted to the university system.”

The Center can be found on the second floor of the MU, right at the heart of campus. Inside, students can find study tables and cushioned chairs, some computers and a printer, a table laden with pastries and coffee, as well plenty of Chicanx and Latinx peers and staff members. But this center didn’t just appear overnight — the development process took a few years.

“The initiative itself, our overall umbrella is the Chicanx/Latinx Retention Initiative, under that is the Center,” Cortez said. “It began in 2015 with the hiring of the director, which is myself, after that then I began to develop the strategic plan to shape the initiative moving forward with the team. Then the second year we became an office over by what’s now the writing studio. That’s where I first hired the associate director, Lina Mendez, and then a team of student staff.”

With Chicanx and Latinx students making up roughly 25 percent of the current undergraduate population, there was a need to move out of the tiny space in the University House Annex. Cortez estimated that more than 70 percent of the Chicanx/Latinx population is made up of first generation students, making the need for a centralized retention center even stronger.

“It really took about two years in the making to figure out where the location would be,” Cortez said. “[It meant] working with student affairs, working with academic affairs, and the administration team to see where we would establish the new center, looking at the blueprint, looking at the sign, looking at multiple community meetings with students and the community to get feedback.”

Cortez is a UC Davis alumnus himself, having received his master’s degree in education with a social and cultural emphasis, as well as a Ph.D. in education. When he was a student here, there was no centralized form of resources for Chicanx and Latinx students like CCLASS offers today. In fact, Cortez wishes that centers like this existed on all university campuses with a high population of Chicanx and Latinx students.

“I think it really helps out create community, a sense of belonging for first generation,” Cortez said. “[It] helps the student organizations work together, get additional academic support, somewhere to come and speak to professional staff about their experience or their recommendations on how to navigate the university system on a campus this size where they can access academic resources and tutoring, advising, seminars, all that good stuff.”

The CCLASS offers a robust set of resources for its students. For example, the Dean’s offices for the College of Letters and Science and the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences send advisors multiple days during the week, and there are also math, physics, and writing specialists that come to help students throughout the week.

There are also a variety of seminars offered throughout the quarters. In the fall, the focus is on research support where librarians come to offer academic support to Chicanx and Latinx students. In the winter, the focus is for the transfer population, and then identity support seminars are offered in the spring.

However, these are just a minor sampling of all of the resources and services offered by CCLASS and its staff.

“We plan graduation every year for the community, and that one is growing, there’s going to be over 400 students this year,” Cortez said. “We recently reactivated the Chicano/Latino Alumni Association; now it has leadership and a strategic plan. We just established our first round of scholarships and then we will continue in the future with some endowments to get more financial support. And we have a retention advisory committee that formed to work with students, faculty, staff.”

Perhaps one of the greatest resources of the center is access to professional staff, especially when it comes to helping students graduate and think about pursuing graduate or professional school. Cortez can help in this realm, as can associate director Dr. Lina Mendez, who received her master’s from Harvard University and her Ph.D. from the UC Davis School of Education.

“I think even for me and [Cortez], because we both have Ph.Ds, is we’re able to help students through graduate school, so helping them with letters of recommendation, helping them about even how to ask professors for letters, personal statements,” Mendez said. “I do believe that this particular center has helped so many students who sometimes don’t feel like they see themselves in other places on campus.”

Mendez hopes that students across campus realize that the CCLASS is not an exclusive space only for Chicanx and Latinx students and that students of any ethnicity or background are welcome. If students are paying tuition to go here and have access campus resources, then that means access to every single space on campus.

“I have to tell that to students so they feel welcome, and they don’t feel like it’s just for some other people or that they’re taking advantage of resources that are for someone else,” Mendez said. “The reality of these centers is that we focus on these communities in order to retain them and help them graduate, but it doesn’t mean that anybody else can’t use our resources, either the study space, the printing, or even our own knowledge.”

Mendez has been a part of the initiative since its early stages. Another student who became involved early on was Janet Garcia, a third-year Chicano/a studies and linguistics double major and student staff member at the CCLASS. She found out about the initiative during her freshman year when she was enrolled in an education research class that Cortez helped develop.

“They had four peers, but then they had two special positions, which were the student assistant research ones,” Garcia said. “[Cortez] asked the whole class who was interested [to] keep going and developing more research tactics and what not, and I wanted to so that was how I was able to get hired and develop my research skills. That was really great.”

Garcia noted that each student staff member brings a unique aspect to the job. They provide peer-to-peer help, information on classes, connecting students to outside resources and services and simply keeping an eye on the center and making anyone who walks in feel welcome and appreciated.

“I feel like every time I go into new places I always come out [having] met more folks, since folks know me more than I know them just because I’m always there [in the Center],” Garcia said. “[Working there] is really fun, just being in a community where it’s really welcoming and part of my roots are there. It has been a really great experience.”



Written by: Marlys Jeane — features@theaggie.org

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misspelled the associate director’s name as Lena Mendez. Her name is Lina. The article has been updated to reflect this change.


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