Recently, Cal Poly vocalized its efforts on trying to become a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). Throughout October 2023, the campus hosted a series of events and symposiums to discuss how they are approaching this transition and the importance of being a diversity-achieving and inclusive institution.
To be recognized as an HSI, the total percentage of Latinx undergraduate students must be at least 25%, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Cal Poly’s Office of University Diversity and Inclusion (OUDI) reported that in 2022 the number of enrolled Latinx students at Cal Poly was 21.1%.
Mustang News spoke with students and faculty about what this transition means for Latinx students looking forward.
Hispanic Heritage Month events
The university hosted several events designed to center the experiences of Latinx students and commemorate the start of Cal Poly’s journey to becoming an HSI.
On Oct. 17, Cal Poly hosted ¡Adelante!, its inaugural HSI symposium, in the Chumash Auditorium. The event featured American labor leader and activist Dolores Huerta. The goal of the symposium was to empower Latinx students and faculty while demonstrating Cal Poly’s broad dedication to the community’s success, according to the OUDI.
“I’ve been here at this college several times over the years, and I do have to say that this audience looks a little bit different than the last time I was here,” Huerta said in her opening statement.
Dolores Huerta delivered a keynote address at the symposium, drawing from her experiences as a labor activist, community organizer and teacher.
In her presentation, Huerta acknowledged the value of education in producing well-informed activists for the Latinx community. She urged educational institutions to set an example for the rest of society.
“Education is going to be … the savior of our society,” Huerta said. “But teachers are not being paid enough. We do not have enough resources for education.”
Before she co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, the predecessor of the United Farm Workers’ Union, Huerta pursued a teaching career. It was in her classroom that she felt called to aid the children of farmworkers by directly helping their parents.
“Remember that we are one human family,” Huerta said.
She then encouraged the crowd to shake the hands of their neighbors and say, “Hello relative.”
As the 93-year-old activist reflected on the power of unity, she also touched on the fight for democracy.
“A democracy means that people have to participate,” Huerta said. “People have to be engaged, people have to be informed, they have to get out there and vote.”
Huerta explained how free college education, universal health care and free daycare for children are pressing needs in society that the Latinx community could benefit from.
On Oct. 25, Cal Poly hosted a State of Latinx event where students spoke on a panel about their experiences as Latinx students and their thoughts about how the campus can better address the complexities and multifaceted experiences of Latinx students.
Experiences of Latinx students at Cal Poly
Liberal studies freshman Cassandra Ferrer Miranda said the HSI symposium was a huge step in the right direction for Cal Poly.
“The presence that Dolores Huerta has here on campus speaks hugely to how much change she is actually bringing,” she said. “Us people of color belong here and hopefully with Dolores Huerta coming here, more keynote speeches and events can take place.”
Having Huerta come to campus meant a lot to some students.
“It can have a really big impact on someone … and be really inspirational,” computer science senior Pablo Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said having speakers like Dolores come visit the campus are great experiences that can encourage students to work towards becoming advocates like her.
Music junior Mariana Lepe said that during WOW, she participated in the awareness walk where she saw a quote from an anonymous student that said “every day I’m reminded that I’m a minority.”
These words have resonated with her throughout her time at Cal Poly as a minority student, she said at the State of Latinx event.
Gonzalez also experienced a similar cultural shock and isolation on campus.
“I wasn’t really seeing people who looked like me in my classes,” Gonzalez said.
After reading an article on the attrition rate of under-served computer science students at Cal Poly, Gonzalez said he would like to see an effort to retain students and an increase in Latinx faculty, so students feel represented on campus.
“I didn’t have a Latinx professor in [my] major courses [until] last school year,” Gonzalez said.
Interdisciplinary studies senior Alonda Caberea, along with Lepe, also wishes for Cal Poly to enact a cultural sensitivity training for professors as well as a better screening process when hiring staff and faculty.
Gonzalez also advocates for more consideration of other Latinx cultures in these events. They are often centered around Mexican food, music and performers, but he hopes these events will better represent all Latinx cultures.
“Latinx students who aren’t Mexican will often feel like they are not a part of the group that the school is attempting to bring here,” Gonzalez said.
Additionally, students want there to be more intentional and inclusive programming at Cal Poly. Computer science senior Luis Rosas feels that although there are many clubs and events on campus to promote diversity and inclusion, there needs to be more intention and meaningful work done with students.
Transparency and support
To become a more welcoming and inclusive community, Gonzalez wants Cal Poly to help students become more aware of the resources that are available for students, such as retention ability and career service opportunities.
Gonzalez said Cal Poly should make resources for first-generation students who are unable to ask their parents or families for help while navigating college issues. Cal Poly’s OUDI has a website for first-generation students that links to the university’s financial, wellness, academic, career, housing, club and underrepresented student resources.
“It’s not that students don’t want to take advantage of these resources, it’s that a lot of times we don’t even know that they are there,” Gonzalez said.
Political science junior and diversity chairperson of the Latinx Cultural Association (LCA) Liz Reyes thinks Latinx students will feel more at home with Cal Poly becoming an HSI. She believes the transition will foster a supportive community for students and motivate them to give back to their community.
“Becoming an HSI is also very essential because it will help motivate Latinx people to stay in college [and] keep coming to college, knowing that there are other people that want to succeed,” Reyes said.
In her role at LCA, Reyes is trying to build more partnerships with Latinx businesses in San Luis Obispo and especially with groups that have historically been underrepresented. The club connected with Corazón Café, located in Downtown SLO. With profits generated on Sundays from 3-5 p.m., Corazón Café donates to LCA to help provide a scholarship to a member of the club.
For students who may be struggling with finding community on campus, civil engineering sophomore Yanneli Santos recommends seeking out resources like clubs, centers and faculty to help build a community and network.
Latinx faculty finding community
For faculty who are seeking a community on campus, the Chicanx Latinx Faculty Staff Association (CLFSA) is one opportunity to connect.
“As a new Cal Poly employee and resident of San Luis Obispo County, I strongly desired to connect with the Latinx community on campus,” Scholars program coordinator and president of CFLSA Ana Garcia wrote in an email to Mustang News. “Chicanx Latinx Faculty Staff Association was an excellent way to connect with staff and faculty outside my department.”
According to their website, CFLSA provides opportunities for university members to connect and create a welcoming space by hosting monthly meetings, lunch meetups, book clubs, holiday gatherings and more.
Garcia thinks that Cal Poly’s HSI task force has made great recommendations and she looks forward to seeing these changes in action.
Becoming an HSI
The OUDI wrote that in becoming an HSI it strives “to be a university that enhances student success by creating a culturally rich environment of diversity and inclusion, academic excellence, and social responsibility.”
However, students like Reyes are worried about how Cal Poly will handle the inclusivity of students. Reyes wishes for Cal Poly to enforce implicit bias training for students in the future, so they can learn how to better communicate with their peers.
When discussing the next steps, Cabrera said the school should “work on our inclusion first.” She said this way, Cal Poly can provide a welcoming landing ground for students and help them feel comfortable being a part of campus.
“When we finally get that designation [of HSI] as a school, we can not only be proud of the members, but be proud of how we treat the people and [the] students that are coming,” Gonzalez said.