UC Davis will become Hispanic Serving Institution, Chicana/o Studies professors raise concerns

RAUL MORALES / AGGIE

Professors think focus should be on currently-enrolled Chicana/o students who feel isolated

UC Davis’ efforts to meet the requirements to become a Hispanic Serving Institution came to a close in May of 2018, and now the university is researching how to best use funds granted through the designation it is expecting to receive in Spring 2019. While some believe UC Davis is well equipped to properly serve its Hispanic students, others, including certain staff members, feel unsure and hesitant about how much success the HSI designation will actually bring to students.

Assistant Professor Clarissa Rojas of the Chicano/a Studies Department is one of those staff members, as her past experiences at different campuses has her hoping UC Davis will make the right decisions.

“At CSU Long Beach, early rounds of HSI fund distribution were not duly informed by the Chicanx students, staff and faculty leadership on campus,” Rojas said. “As a result, decisions like a significant amount of funds being used to fund a new Starbucks on campus were made, among others. These decisions misdirected funds away from the services and vital academic support that Chicanx/Latinx students needed to access for their success.”

Recently, Rojas brought up the topic of the HSI title into her classroom, connecting it to the Young Lords — an organization active during the 1960s and 1970s that strove for self-determination for the Puerto Rican community of New York. Turning to her students, Rojas asked them a question to put into perspective what exactly it was the Young Lords were working towards: “What if you could decide what happened with the HSI funds?” At first, there were just some giggles and smiles, and then multiple hands shot up: “Free books!” “Affordable housing!” “Free parking!”

What if? The answer to that question will have to wait until next spring.

Rojas is not alone in these sentiments. Department Natalia Deeb-Sossa, an associate professor or Chicano/a Studies, is critical of the designation, specifically citing how there are plenty of students right now who need help and not just those that help the university reach their quota for the HSI requirement.

For me, it is really important that the university reflects or takes time to understand that they are not adequately serving the CHI/LAT students that they currently have,” Deeb-Sossa said. “So, it’s a disservice to accept more CHI/LAT students if the students they currently have feel marginalized, alienated, somehow that this institution does not reflect them, doesn’t respect them. They’re not doing well in classes. They don’t graduate. They’re not performing well.”

Deeb-Sossa’s assessment of the university’s current help for Chicanx students made her decision quite easy when she was asked by Carlos Jackson, head of the Chicanx Department, to be the the department’s representative on the task force.

I wanted to be at the table and have input on this important committee,” Deeb-Sossa said.

Having a seat at the table should allow Deeb-Sossa to address her concerns and make a difference, although she said that even the task force itself is a problem.

“This task force and the co-chairs in particular are not being supported,” Deeb-Sossa said. “They do not have the funding and the staff necessary to do this important work. Again, we see how the CHI/LAT community, and in particular the CHI/LAT students are not a priority to this chancellor.”

To better engage public discussion on the matter, a town hall meeting was held on Nov. 1 at the UC Davis Conference Center, open to faculty, staff, students and alumni as well as members of the public.

Held by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on behalf of the HSI task force, the topic of the discussion was “What Does It Mean for UC Davis to Be Hispanic-Serving?”

The forum was comprised of a brief program followed by small group discussions designed to identify opportunities for UC Davis as one of only nine universities with the highest level of research activities for undergraduate and graduate students that also have the HSI designation.

Written by: Deana Medina — dlmedina@ucdavis.edu