UCF revises its identity as it bids for HSI status

UCF students, professors, and alumni gathered at the Student Union's Cape Florida Ballroom for the Hispanic Serving Institution forum, where they discussed the impact of HSI status on UCF.

As UCF prepares to gain Hispanic-serving institution status by 2019, it's beginning to address how it will affect diversity within the community, and what changes can be made to ensure the university will be serving its Latino population.

UCF, like many universities, has struggled to define what a Hispanic-serving university looks like. In response, UCF created a position meant to help the university view its students and faculty through the lens of a Hispanic-serving Institution.

Dr. Cyndia Muñiz, the assistant director for Hispanic affairs in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, has been placed in charge of issues such as Latino representation among the faculty. While UCF's enrollment data estimates 25 percent of students identify as Latino, Muñiz said only about 10 percent of faculty members identify as the same. 

“The university is aware that there is work to be done in that area,” Muñiz said. In fact, she said, one of the projects the Office of Diversity and Inclusion will be addressing the retention of Latino faculty.

UCF is not alone in addressing diversity among university faculty. Data gathered by Excelencia In Education in conjunction with the Mellon Foundation showed less than 5 percent of university faculty in the U.S. identifies as Latino nationwide, compared to 17 percent in HSI universities.

Muñiz hosted a forum Jan. 31 where students, faculty and alumni what they believe UCF should address as the university progresses towards HSI status.

Angie Torres, senior international and global studies student at UCF and participant of the forum had the opportunity to attend a summer research program at Duke University's Ralph Bunche Institute, which focused on providing research opportunities to people of color.

“They brought in professors and people who worked in the government,” Torres said. “If they went through all these hardships and struggles similar to my own, then I can do it too. As a kid I didn’t even know what a Ph.D was. Going to that program, seeing these professors of color, seeing these women, it showed me that I can do it.”

For students like Angie their progress as professionals depends on how much effort they are willing to put into finding programs that can help them advance in their professional careers.

“You have to be a go-getter. Being a minority, if you’re not a go-getter it makes things 100 times much harder," she said. "Sometimes word of mouth is the best way to get to these people but you also have to be in that setting with people of color.”

Deborah Santiago, vice president for policy and co-founder of Excelencia in Education also observed a desire for Latino faculty development by members of university faculty themselves.

“We started hearing more from students initially, but I think often we’ve also heard from HSI faculty who are Latino," she said. "They believe that there needs to be more Latinos.”

In her experience, faculty that identify as Latino are the heart of HSI because they are the ones that work with students and are the ones committed to cause.

By identifying as Latino, Santiago said, they make the choice to embrace that part of who they are while also acting as an academics, which embodies the spirit of HSIs.

While she believes strong Latino faculty representation should be required in an HSI-designated university, it is difficult to measure what adequate representation would be.

“Ideally you would see a very strong representation of Latino faculty at an HSI," she said. "The hard part is what does that mean when try to quantify."

Ethnic distribution in HSI universities varies by institution. Florida International University, for example, reported approximately 67 percent of their undergraduate students and 19 percent of their full-time faculty identified as Latino in 2016, while Valencia College reported 34 percent and 10 percent, respectively. 

Since the Fall 2016 semester, UCF has met the two federal requirements for developing HSIs: being an accredited institution and enrolling a Latino full-time undergraduate student population equivalent to 25 percent of the total undergraduate population. There is no minimum diversity requirement for staff or faculty, nor is there indication that any grants given to the university must be used to promote Latino projects.

According to UCF's Office of Diversity and Inclusion, UCF barely met the Title III-required proportion of students receiving the Federal Pell Grant, with 39 percent, and the 25 percent Latino undergraduate requirement, with 25.03 percent.

Although UCF barely meets the Latino undergraduate requirement, Excelencia in Education data showed that the university would already be enrolling eight times as many Latino students as 59% of HSIs nationally. 

In Santiago's opinion, while creating a more diverse faculty should be the priority of any HSI fostering an inclusive culture is far more definitive.

“It’s not that others can’t educate Latinos, obviously that is the case, but I do think that we have to concurrently improve faculty development in cultural competency and we need to grow the pipeline of Latino faculty concurrently, and I think that commitment is the serving,” Santiago said.

To her, the definition should go beyond the number of Hispanics enrolling. “If it can create faculty that is culturally competent, if they’re African-American or white or whatever their background is, and they care, that can be a Hispanic-serving institution.”

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