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  • Writer's picturegina garcia

Despite the attacks on DEI, we can still do servingness at Hispanic-Serving Institutions

Hands down the most pressing concern for folx working at HSIs in 2023 is, “How are we going to do servingness in the midst of the attacks on DEI?” My response to this question is, “They can’t take away or our collective commitment to racial equity, social justice, and Latine/x students.” By “they” I mean the people who are attacking DEI, affirmative action, culturally relevant curricula, immigrants, gay and trans people, and women and birthing folx. When you are committed to something, it means you are dedicated to it. This includes commitments to a person or people (as in the case of partnerships and marriages), commitments to a cause (as in the case of social justice), and commitments to activities (as in the case of your job). When it comes to DEI in HSIs, it’s probably all three: commitment to the students of color enrolled, commitments to equitable outcomes and experiences for these students, and commitment to our role as educators. For those of us in the HSI freedom struggle, “they” cannot take away our commitment no matter how many laws or policies they pass.

My response is grounded in critical hope, which Dr. Joy Gaston Gayles defined in her ASHE presidential address as our ability to remain hopeful despite experiencing and resisting systems of oppression and attacks on our humanity. That is the essence of this decade in which we have witnessed the creation of policies that attack our basic human rights and the dismantling of policies that have proven to be effective at creating a more just society. And although the creation of new polices such as the Stop Woke Act and Don’t Say Gay Bill feel dehumanizing, and while the dismantling of court cases and policies such as affirmative action and Roe v. Wade feel disempowering, we must remain hopeful. Wokeness is derived from African American Vernacular English and defined as being aware of oppression, racism, and social problems facing minoritized people. Yet I stand firm in my statement that they can’t take away our awareness of these things. Sure, they can put up barriers to the implementation of DEI efforts on colleges campuses and pass laws that limit our curricular and cocurricular activities, but they can’t take our critical consciousness, because once we become mindful of the oppressive systems that embedded in the US structures, we cannot look the other way.

Yet even the folx at HSIs who are committed to justice and servingness want to know how they are supposed to do this within a reductive and punitive higher education climate. Here I offer some practical strategies on the ways that we can remain critically hopeful and committed to servingness at HSIs despite the political climate.

Strategy #1: Hire educators committed to HSIs and servingness.

With this strategy, the focus is on hiring people committed to the organization and the students that enroll in it. This will require you to state that the campus is an HSI in any job description you create. But don’t just state the federal definition, give some meaning to it. Anyone who applies to work at an HSI should want to work at an HSI and they should have a basic understanding of what that means in terms of the types of students that enroll (Latine/x and students of color at the intersection of minoritized identities). The focus should be on intentionally hiring people that value racial equity, social justice, and empowerment for communities of color. Educators at HSIs should be able to situate the campus and the students historically, should be critically conscious, and should be practitioner activists committed to disrupting inequities and advancing justice in educational spaces. Hire folx who believe that education can be liberating for Latine/x and people of color and understand how to create curricular and co-curricular spaces and policies that are grounded in liberation.

Strategy #2: Work in solidarity and disrupt institutional silos.

As noted by Joy Gaston Gayles, humanizing higher education calls for collective action and solidarity. Collective action and solidarity are my favorite HSI values, as they allow us to address oppressive systems and do it in relation with one another, regardless of race, gender, and other identity markers. That’s what solidarity is. Find ways to break out of your silos on campus and work in solidarity across disciplines and functional areas. The math and chemistry faculty can work with the Black cultural center staff on campus to create educational support programs for students; the engineering faculty can work with the Latinx resource center staff to create career focused opportunities for students such as internships, career prep, and co-ops; the sociology faculty can work with the disability resource center to create a series of workshops to help faculty understand how to create a disability justice centered classroom; the social work department can work with the basic needs center to develop internships and job opportunities that address some of the most pressing issues facing college students today: food and housing insecurities. Working across silos can be an effective way to elevate our commitment to equity and justice, particularly in spaces that have not historically done well with DEI efforts.

Strategy #3: Center students’ histories and identities at HSIs.

This strategy seems too easy, as everyone claims to be student centered, but this calls for more than being student centered. It calls for centering students’ lived realities. This means that we necessarily must acknowledge their histories and identities. This is what culturally relevant, antiracist, and justice-focused curriculum and cocurricular spaces have historically done, yet you don’t have to use these terms to embody these dimensions. I dream of the day that we don’t have to put an adjective in from of the curriculum and cocurriculum that we offer, because it just IS relevant to students’ histories and identities. And if their histories are connected to oppression and injustices, then they need healing spaces, and the classroom and out of classroom experiences can be spaces of healing and care. I also call for a greater commitment to students’ communities of origins and their families as part of our collective work towards centering students at HSIs, because students who attend HSIs do this naturally whether the institution does this or not. But why not make it one of our values as an HSI?

None of these strategies require you to use the terms diversity, equity, or inclusion. These strategies require you to be committed to equity, justice, and liberation at your core, which is something they can’t take from us. With this post I’m sending you love and strength in the struggle as you do the hard work to create more just futures. Stay strong en la lucha!


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