Faculty, students comment on the consequences of underrepresentation
For the past decade, UC Davis has been working toward achieving a status as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). The designation requires that the university maintain a student body comprised of at least 25% Hispanic students, among other criteria. Of the nine UC undergraduate schools, six are currently HSIs, and Davis is projected to achieve this status by the end of 2019.
The HSI task force has submitted yearly applications since 2008 and has established resource centers for Latinx and Chicanx students under the following vision: “Through the HSI initiative, we envision UC Davis as a culturally responsive learning community that fulfills the mission of a Research 1 and land grant university, closing the equity gap in higher education.”
The number of Chicanx and Latinx undergraduates has more than doubled, seeing an increase from 3,063 to 6,715 as of Sept. 2019, according to the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.
The Center for Chicanx and Latinx Academic Student Success, or “El Centro,” located in the MU, was established in 2017 to provide a variety of resources and services to Latinx and Chicanx students. Cirilo Cortez, director of El Centro, said being designated as an HSI is an important step in increasing Latinx and Chicanx visibility and representation.
“This designation is really a seal of prestige and a commitment to diversity,” Cortez said. “Essentially, it translates into federal grants which we can use to build infrastructure [and] put toward diversity training. We are excited about the future.”
Faculty demographics, however, do not reflect the same strides in diversity seen in student body demographics. Compared to a 23% Hispanic or Latinx American student population, only 4% of faculty identifies as Hispanic or Latinx as of 2016, according to the UC Davis HSI Task Force Report.
UC Davis does have efforts focused on diversifying faculty. For example, ADVANCE is a program aimed to “increase the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in academic science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.”
Students and faculty, however, have noticed the underrepresentation of minority groups in UC Davis’ STEM departments — Santiago Ramirez, an associate professor in the department of evolution and ecology, said he has noticed a major lack of Latinx and Chicanx professors in his department.
“We have a total of 29 faculty in our department, and I am the only Hispanic professor,” Ramirez said via email, adding the lack of representation could have a major impact on a student’s ability to find academic role models within their fields.
“Over the years, I have had conversations with some students [who] identify as Latinx [and] they often seem surprised [and] amazed that there is a Latin professor teaching a class,” Ramirez said. “It makes me feel very happy, but also sad that many students have gone through their degree without ever taking a class from a Latinx professor.”
NPR published a study in 2017 correlating students’ success with whether or not their teacher was the same race as the student. The study found that when students had teachers who looked similar to them, they became more interested in their schoolwork and felt more appreciated.
Fourth-year cinema and digital media major Raul Morales Jr. was not made aware of the Latinx and Chicanx resources available on campus until the end of his third year. Coming from a high school with a primarily Latinx population, he said it was a culture shock to arrive at a university with no awareness of these resources.
“Having a consistent group of Latinx people around me in college hasn’t occurred unless I searched for it,” Morales said. “I didn’t find El Centro until the end of my third year and a lot of people there were speaking Spanish or teaching English and looked like me and my family.”
Morales said he felt isolated for the first two years of his college career and, after having a Latinx professor for the first time in his third year, he said he felt that it was in part because he felt underrepresented at UC Davis.
“I found out the Art Department was going to have a Latin American art history class for the first time and I knew I needed to be a part of it to help cement it into the curriculum,” Morales said. “Hearing my professor talk about how he returned to Latin America to find role models in his field made me realize that I wanted more professors [who] represent my culture.”
Despite the disparity between students and faculty representation, Cortez said UC Davis is moving in the right direction when it comes to enhancing staff diversity.
“There are programs on campus like the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion that are committed to bringing in more diverse faculty,” Cortez said. “The foundation is there, we just need to create these pathways, starting with undergraduates.”
Like Cortez, Ramirez is also hopeful that Latinx representation within his field of evolutionary biology will only continue to grow in the coming years.
“I think UC Davis is really moving in the right direction in terms of increasing representation across campus,” Ramirez said via email. “Unfortunately, the biological sciences appear to be lagging behind. We are trying to change this here at UCD, but it takes a long time. I am connected with the Latin American community in my field, and I see many talented young scientists.”
Morales feels strongly that the lack of Latinx and Chicanx professors at UC Davis has inspired him and his Latinx and Chicanx peers to become role models for future generations.
“I eventually want to become a professor in my field because I know what it meant to have professors [who] look like me,” Morales said. “It has been nice to find other people in my community [with] that mindset who want to effect change in their fields. These big changes start in institutions like this. If there are Latinx people reading this, I’m here, you’re here, we’re all here and we are only growing. Whenever you are feeling alone, there is community if you seek it out, help represent it and inspire change.”
Written by: Miki Wayne — email@example.com