La Raza Faculty & Administrator Association - Becoming a Hispanic Thriving Institution

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Despite the rhetoric that has emerged under UTSA’s current administration, the University of Texas at San Antonio is not a “Hispanic Thriving Institution.” It has yet to fulfill the founding mission of the University, which addresses the needs and reflects the majority Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x population it is meant to serve. With a disproportional number of Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x faculty to student ratio, a disproportional Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x administrators to student ratio, graduation and retention rates for its Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x students that are in need of dire improvement, and deficient enrollment of neighboring Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x students, UTSA has yet to reach the type of milestones that would qualify it as Hispanic serving, let alone Hispanic thriving.
 
Informed by best practices identified by scholars and experts in Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) and conversations with Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x community members, LRFAA has compiled this statement outlining the following steps that would move UTSA closer to embracing and fulfilling its HSI identity. Together with the undersigned, we charge UTSA to dedicate itself to becoming a leading and model HSI that will intentionally embrace the designation, serve the majority Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x students, and recruit, hire, retain and promote Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x faculty and university leaders.      

UTSA’s Founding History & Purpose: A Reminder
 
To set the proper context for this call, LRFA offers this important reminder of UTSA’s founding purpose. After years of contentious efforts, UTSA was founded in 1969 to redress the fact that working-class Chicana/o and Latina/o communities living in one of Texas’ largest cities had been “underserved by higher education” (de Oliver, 1998, p. 274) for decades, since the majority of these families “could not afford to send their children to an out-of-town university” (p. 274). The original promise of the legislative bill that authorized the monies to build UTSA was to identify a site that was accessible to the “socioeconomically underprivileged populations of the inner city” (p. 277) that were majority Chicana/o.
 
Early discussions of such an institution projected it to be “the leading center for Spanish-speaking students in the southwest.” A 1969 memo from the Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the UT System strongly suggested that “special emphasis should be given to the development of programs focused on Latin America, on Mexican American studies, on bilingual programs, and other related programs” at the newly established university. Indeed, UTSA’s first president, Arleigh Templeton indicated that UTSA would have “specially designed programs which would allow Mexican American students to take half their degree requirements in Spanish.” Templeton also announced that he wanted UTSA to be “first in the nation in bilingual education in five years.” Templeton believed that this program would gain UTSA national prominence. When President Peter Flawn arrived three years later, he also saw the importance of UTSA relating to the Chicana/o and Latina/o culture of San Antonio and South Texas. He indicated that UTSA’s programs in bicultural studies were to prepare business and professional people who live and work in the Southwest to understand and work in a bicultural society. He believed that UTSA was ahead of its time. In an early philosophy statement, Flawn emphasized UTSA’s serving “the culturally-rich urban area of San Antonio and South Texas.” He also stressed that UTSA’s colleges would be offering courses reflecting cultural and linguistic elements in general and what he called, Hispanic culture, in particular.
 
Despite this pledge and these previously stated intentions, the campus was built in 1969 at the city’s outer suburban fringe, closer to the city’s relatively affluent White populations. It took a lawsuit filed by MALDEF in 1987 to demonstrate that this particular suburban campus had yet to meet the needs of the city’s and region’s Chicana/o and Latina/o population. As a result, a satellite campus was finally built in the city’s urban core in 1997, amidst a predominately Latina/o and Chicana/o neighborhood. Out of the nearly 10 high schools located within 6 miles of the urban campus, all of these have a Latina/o/x-Chicnana/o/x student population of 90% or higher.  Yet, less than 1.7% of students at UTSA are from high schools within six miles from UTSA’s downtown campus.
 
Committing to UTSA’s Founding Purpose & Mission
 
Given UTSA’s founding purpose, it has yet to fulfill its mission. While there is a department for bilingual-bicultural education, there are no degree paths that students could earn by taking a majority of their courses in Spanish, there are no core course requirements addressing the bilingual or bicultural tenor of the city, nor has there ever been a department of Mexican American Studies at UTSA. 
 
To be clear, we contend that serving the majority Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x student population and community does not exclude all other students. In fact, serving Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x students will improve the educational opportunities for all other students, and will make the campus a more inclusive and equitable space. Embracing this approach will in fact bring San Antonio more in a line to a world-class city that bridges our regional and local legacies with global endeavors. When UTSA improves educational access and attainment for the most marginalized students and families, there is a real and tangible opportunity for improving the entire city and region economically, socially, culturally. This approach and mindset require University leaders to seek out assistance from experts in the field who have track records of working specifically with these goals in mind, as well as requiring faculty to change their practices toward and perceptions of our majority Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x students. Becoming a leading, model HSI is not an exclusionary endeavor. As the city’s largest four-year public institution, UTSA should pioneer how an exemplar HSI serves its community and its students from an assets-based perspective, fosters inclusivity, and yields academic excellence in a community that both San Antonio and the surrounding region deserve.
 
Action Steps for Helping UTSA to Thrive
 
It is with this historical context that members of La Raza Faculty and Administrators Association (LRFAA) and our undersigned allies stipulate the following three areas as imperative to this aspiration and goal:
 
1.     EMBRACE the identity and BECOME a leading, model Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) that serves San Antonio and South Texas.
 
a.     First and foremost, the University must fully, publicly, and consistently center its designated identity in its mission is to serve Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x students. It must implement a strategic plan for becoming a leading Hispanic Serving Institution. This strategic plan would require indicators of Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x success, short- and long-term goals, and a theory of change. For too long, the University has sought to distance itself from the HSI moniker – opting for rhetoric like “inclusive excellence” that minimizes and obfuscates the majority Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x student population and region it serves—except when it benefits from federal monies and grants. Job descriptions, recruitment materials, and marketing strategies must center and celebrate the Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x students and community it serves.
 
b.     A land and history acknowledgement. Publicly recognize and acknowledge the Indigenous peoples that first resided in San Antonio and Bexar County, including the aboriginal people of this land, the Coahuiltecans, along with Comanches and Apaches, and honor their histories and cultures as part of the history narrative that informs our institution’s founding. In addition, the university should acknowledge and celebrate an accurate historical accounting of the Latina/o and Chicana/o leaders who advocated and challenged elected officials to fund the University, and the Latina/o and Chicana/o leaders who advocated tenaciously for the creation of the Downtown campus, overcoming continual resistance for dedicated resources and programs for the historically underrepresented Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x students in San Antonio.
 
c.     Establish an Office of the Vice Provost for HSI Initiatives and Strategies, with dedicated staff, space and budget. Major universities that are resolute about serving their majority Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x student populations are currently organizing their administrative team so they better address institutional and leadership deficiencies in serving Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x populations. Currently, UTSA’s programs, projects, and services that are focused on Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x students are disjointed and underfunded. The University needs the help of dedicated leadership and staff to coordinate efforts and advise the President and senior leadership on a host of issues.
 
d.     A Westside SA Initiative that is resourced, reciprocal, community-centric and sustainable, in the way it promotes engaged scholarship, critical service learning, and educational pathways to higher education. Not all “development” is good and the University should not be an accelerant to gentrification, furthering community mistrust and continued economic inequality. Although announced efforts appear promising, community residents and leaders have not been at the center of these initial efforts. Trust must be earned. For maximum impact, resources must be provided to the faculty and staff who are already doing this work, however, a coordinated University effort should be developed with Westside community residents at the decision-making table so that they are actively present at every step of the process.
 
e.     A living wage for professional, clerical and support staff and re-evaluation of contracting services that are used as a means for reducing personnel budgets. San Antonio is the 7th largest city in the U.S., it also leads the nation in poverty rate. Many of our staff are life-long residents of San Antonio and contribute selflessly to ensure successful programming, efforts, and initiatives. They are committed to the institution and allow our programming to be successful. The University has a moral obligation to lead in efforts to address issues that impact the working families and low SES workers who make our institution better.
 
2.     SERVE the majority Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x student population.
 
a.     A competitive, well-resourced and comprehensive Department of Mexican American, Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x Studies. This includes a:) resources for full-time faculty; b.) undergraduate and graduate (Master’s and Doctoral) programs; c.) funds for academic advisors and student support staff; d.) dedicated GRA, full-time doctoral fellows, and post-doctoral fellowships; and, e.) dedicated space and programming for a Center for Mexican American Studies.
 
b.     A comprehensive and integrated initiative that specifically addresses Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x graduate and undergraduate success. This is distinct from first generation programming. Curriculum and programming (see #1) are the starting point, however additional access and retention programs must be multi-year and come from dedicated University funds, not only grant funding. In addition, this initiative must include resources for undergraduate research, internship programs, and study abroad, specifically for under-served Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x students.  
 
c.     Policies that support and student programs that engage undocumented, DACA and DREAMer students. Although the DREAM Center is a good first step, it is severely under-resourced and does not have the necessary support staff, space and programming needed to support our undocumented, DREAMer and DACAmented student population. The University must fully embrace its undocumented and DACAmented student population, provide safe spaces, and promote programming that is unabashedly pro-undocumented student.
 
d.     Targeted Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x student recruitment and family engagement. Financial aid and college access online and printed materials must be available for families and students that we serve in both English and Spanish so that our community understands that they are welcome partners in their students’ success.
 
3.     BUILD a representative Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x Faculty and University Leadership that mirrors San Antonio and South Texas.
 
a.     A robust, long-term initiative for recruiting, hiring, retaining and promoting Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x faculty, across academic disciplines. Currently, the University does not model a faculty that is representative or proportional faculty to the majority student population. Any University initiative must be coordinated, funding, long-term and incentive at the department and college levels to make long-standing impact.
 
b.     A long-term, intentional and scaffolded approach to building a pipeline and hiring of Latina/o/x and Chicana/o/x administrative and executive leadership. The University’s academic and student affairs leadership positions do not represent our community. The University must do better in recruiting and hiring leaders that represent and understand our community, and that indeed, want to work, have experience and are experienced with working on our community.