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II. Chapter 14

 Hispanic Serving Institutions: Chipping Away at Systemic Racism

by Jesus A. Jimenez-Lopez and Octavio Pimentel

 


In 1964 Brown vs Board of Education declared that segregation in the United States was illegal; therefore, in theory, promising an equitable education experience to all. Unfortunately, this ruling was greatly opposed because many people felt that Brown and Black people should not have access to the education White European Americans (WEAs) were receiving. Unfortunately, many people still oppose an equitable education to all, and as a result, often support legislation that continues segregation. Perhaps the most common way to ensure inequitable education is through school funding. Since property taxes are used to fund schools, the more affluent neighborhoods will always have more resources than the working class neighborhoods. These inequitable schools are often separated by a highway, train tracks, or another symbolic structure.

School environments often bring a vast number of people with different cultures, practices, beliefs, and sociopolitical orientations together, all with the same goal in mind: to learn and to gain new perspectives. Unfortunately, even though they share similar aspirations, the sad truth is that schools are often embedded in institutional racism that gives traditional students (often rich WEAs) the upper-hand and often marginalizes all other students (including students of color and the poor). In reality, people of color are subjugated and discriminated against on a consistent basis, which often leads to them becoming discouraged to continue in school. As a high school student and Valedictorian at Jack C. Hays High School Buda, Texas, I saw this inequity often. Throughout my high school years, many of my peers have expressed that they have grown weary of continued acts of hate and resentment towards them. Growing increasingly frustrated, some of them professed that they now only see a college education as a right for only the privileged. Although that may not be entirely true, a substantial number of students indeed feel like they attend a school where they do not belong. This, in turn, obstructs them from their potential, as their confidence diminishes in a seemingly hostile environment. Hearing these conversations, I often wonder if these same students attended a school that was much more culturally friendly (a school that embraced cultural differences, perspectives, and knowledge) would their schooling experience be much more positive?

Texas State University is a Hispanic Serving Institution (an HSI), which is a title given to universities that have at least a 25% Hispanic undergraduate student population. In Texas State’s case, their undergraduate Hispanic population is nearly 40%. Having this Hispanic student population, Texas State University participates in different activities such as the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, Dia de los Muertos Celebrations, among other activities. It is vital to understand that many students often leave an environment that reinforces their cultural identity and experiences, so it is comforting to know that students can find a similar home that supports their cultural identity at Texas State University.

Unfortunately, most other universities do not do this. Within these other settings, universities commonly claim that they have thousands of students, thus making it hard to prioritize the needs of one student (or one group of students) over the needs of others. What these universities do not realize is that not providing a supportive environment to students often creates a hostile environment for them. This can be shown when a student explores a university and notices that there are not many people who look like them, speak their language, have similar cultural practices, eat what they do, among other things. Regrettably, it is common for students of color to notice a lack of receptiveness and an off-putting dismissiveness from their teachers/professors. Facing this, a student of color might question, “Am I just another “check-box” to them, another obligation which they must meet?" As the student continues their freshman year, they may fall into despair because they miss the warm, welcoming hands of their papás, who despite not having a good understanding of what their child is experiencing, are always happy to help. Facing these different obstacles, students of color often ask themselves: Am I getting the same treatment as other more privileged students? What can I do in this monocultural environment, where all I am is an outcast? Schools that promote these environments are guilty of forcing diverse students to assimilate to White European American cultural practices, instead of acculturating to the rich, invigorating culture these students may bring to campuses. Thus, it is important for schools to be accepting of people of all cultures, guiding them through this difficult pathway that they may not fully understand themselves. In a Hispanic Serving Institution, such as Texas State University, students feel welcomed by their peers and professors, people with whom they share similar backgrounds. In many cases their peers have undergone similar difficulties, so they can often guide new students through the difficulty of adjusting to a college campus.

Researchers have discovered the various benefits of being in an environment surrounded by people who have the similar cultural aspects/practices. Fundamentally, believing in yourself as well as being accepted are some of the most psychologically important aspects of being human. Renowned psychologists such as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers have professed the importance of accepting and loving who you are, and in turn, being accepted and loved by others. Having others supporting you while experiencing difficulty can foster greater confidence, allowing the individual to expand their boundaries, and ultimately, giving them a greater chance of succeeding.

Unfortunately, if students of color underperform in comparison to WEAs, some critics attribute their lackluster academic performance to their culture and not the individual. However, in reality, a decline in performance may be a result of being in an environment where these students feel like an outsider, and rightfully so. Students of color are often made to feel that way by hateful remarks and widespread prejudice that plagues American campuses. What is even worse is that these students often experience cases of systematic racism where the environment itself causes these racists to act against them, therefore, building even more obstacles that students of color will have to overcome. Unfortunately, these incidents continue to rise. Instead of accentuating the fact that minority students underperform when compared to white students, it is important to analyze the complex cultural situation and the large impact it has on a student’s academic performance.

Luckily in 2021, there are many different options when it comes to colleges and universities. Students nowadays have the option to attend a Hispanic Serving University, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and of course a traditional university. A Hispanic Serving Institution, such as Texas State University, often provides a “haven” for Hispanic students seeking to strengthen their academic talents in an environment where they are nurtured. In HSIs the university should recognize the importance of the Hispanic culture and then center it around many of their activities. It is also important to note that although HSIs do prioritize the needs of Hispanics, they are dedicated to providing all students opportunities to exercise an equal opportunity to academic success.

Institutional practices like these are important to recognize because they are fostering change across America. As a result, Hispanic enrollment in some Hispanic Serving Institutions (like Texas State) has increased. Seeing an environment where their needs can be met, Hispanics are attending these schools in record numbers, and this enrollment continues to increase. Given the hostile environment often imposed on Hispanics, it is important to see students from diverse backgrounds reach high levels of schooling in America.

With racial tensions high, the Hispanic community must continue to fight the racism that some people have against them. It is no secret that Hispanics are sometimes professed by our political leaders to be “rapists” and “drug dealers,” and undereducated. Thanks to the mere “GANAS” of Hispanic people and with Hispanic Serving Institutions that help support Hispanic culture in higher education, social equality will hopefully continue to rise. Although this will not be easy, this fight must continue, and hopefully as a result, help erase some of the racism against people of color.

Response: Dr. Octavio Pimentel

As it has been eloquently discussed, Texas State University is supporting and advocating for Hispanic students (and other marginalized students) and as a result it is becoming extremely popular among top-tier Brown and Black high school seniors. Granted, it is not perfect, but Texas State University is taking major steps in addressing issues of racism that Hispanics, African Americans, and other marginalized students think is important. Although there are various examples of events that Texas State participates in, perhaps a prime example is the university’s recent adaptation of America Ferrera’s edited book American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures for their 2020-2021 Common Experience Book. The university adopting this book was a smart decision because this book addresses multiculturalism, which increases their desirability. More specifically this book, “…is a collection of first-person accounts from prominent figures about the experience of growing up between cultures” (https://www.txstate.edu/commonexperience/book.html). That said, this book provided the opportunity for the 2020-2021 freshman class to explore the complexity of being multicultural, which to many of them will be their first exposure to talking about issues of multiculturalism. This opportunity will be provided to the students by making them read the book, as well as making it mandatory for them to attend various multicultural events.

Other major events that Texas State University supports that makes it attractive to Brown and Black students are events like the Tomás Rivera Mexican Book award, which has been in existence since 1995. This award recognizes  authors and illustrators who effectively represent the Mexican American experience in children’s books. Their annual celebration is well-liked by many marginalized students because it rewards individuals who work with Mexican Americans. Again, by the university supporting events like this, it continues to make themselves very attractive to highly sought out high school seniors.

Texas State University is taking the right steps in addressing issues of racism that as a result is making themselves attractive to many Brown and Black students. Although there are still many things that the university has to work on to make it more attractive, such as increasing the number of faculty of color, building more programs that increase the graduation rate for marginalized students, among many other things, Texas State University is on the right path of increasing its attractiveness to marginalized groups. By continuing to support programs such as the ones mentioned above, it is highly likely that Texas State University will increase its popularity among students of color.

See also Cuentos and Testimonies I: Diversity and Inclusion at Texas State, Chapter 5
¡No escondan el nopal! Sus raíces son obvias! (Don’t Attempt to hide your Latinx Ethnicity! Your Ethnicity is Obvious”)
by Octavio Pimentel


Jesus A. Jimenez-Lopez

Jesus A. Jimenez-Lopez (Class of 2021) was the Valedictorian at Jack C. Hays High School located in Buda, Texas. His research interests include: medical research, machine learning, and race relations. During his years at Hays High School, he took numerous college-level AP courses, ranging from calculus to physics. More than anything, Jimenez-Lopez aspires to help others. In high school, he founded a free tutoring website called Hays Tutoring—a platform where he helps others meet their academic goals. Jimenez is planning on majoring in neuroscience and then attending medical school. In his free time, Jimenez-Lopez is an avid soccer player and loves “Las Chivas de Guadalajara.”


Octavio Pimentel

Dr. Octavio Pimentel (Professor)  joined the Masters in Rhetoric and Composition Program in The Department of English at Texas State University in 2005. He has taught various classes in the rhetoric and composition field. Critically trained in rhetoric, writing, and education, Dr. Pimentel combines these fields while addressing critical issues of minoritized individuals in the composition field. Dr. Pimentel has authored and co-authored 4 books: Cuentos & Testimonies: Diversity & Inclusion at Texas State University; Racial Shorthand: Racial Discrimination Contested in Social Media; Historias de Éxito within Mexican Communities: Silenced Voicesand Communicating Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in Technical Communication. Dr. Pimentel also has more than 30 articles published including his last two articles “The Push for the 1974 Statement…Once again” (Symposium on Black Lives Matter and Antiracist Projects in Writing Program Administration: WPA Journal) and “Dandole Gas: Un Profe con Sangre del Fil” (Cross-Talking With An American Academic of Color: Essays in Honor of Victor Villanueva), which are scheduled to be published in 2021. Furthermore, Dr. Pimentel also serves on the Editorial Board for the CCC (College Composition and Communication) journal, TCQ (Technical Communication Quarterly), Journal of Business and Technical Communication and College English