February 14, 2023 was the official release date for my new book, Transforming Hispanic-Serving Institutions for Equity and Justice. It’s ironic that the release date was on the day designated for love in the United States; ironic because I approach this work with the utmost love. And I want educators at HSIs to do the same. In her book, All About Love, bell hooks taught us that love is an action, not a feeling, stating that love is “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth” (p. 10). In my research and work with HSIs, I call on educators to extend their own self to nurture the growth, joy, and liberation of Latine students, families, and communities. To be an educator working for transformation is to love the students of color whom we do this work for.
In the book I call this a freedom dream, with full credit to Robin D. G. Kelley for the term, which is to imagine an educational space that is grounded in racial equity, social justice, and collective liberation. I invite us all to freedom dream about colleges and universities that foster reflection, joy, and healing.
So how do we freedom dream and love, theorize and act for change? In the book I offer a framework, because anyone that knows me knows that I love a good framework. Frameworks help us to make sense of the world. And this framework is intended to help the folx on the ground doing the hard work of enacting servingness do their job, whether it be in the classroom or in co-curricular and student support spaces. The framework is also intended to help the decision makers on campus do the much harder work of changing the culture of the campus by changing the practices and policies. If anyone can truly transform an organization, it’s the leaders of the organization. And in this case, I call on presidents and vice presidents, chancellors and vice chancellors, trustees and regents, and deans and directors to put on their race conscious glasses, acknowledge that this is racial equity and social justice work, and embrace a new approach to organizing.
This new approach to organizing is mapped out in the book as 9 dimensions of the Transforming HSIs Framework, which I offer here:
As organizations, the mission defines our purpose and states our values. It also situates
our commitments. The mission should state who we serve and how we serve them. For
HSIs, this means saying clearly that we are HSIs and defining what that means, because
being an HSI can and should mean different things for each campus, depending on the
historical mission of the campus. For example, community colleges have a different
mission than small private liberal arts colleges.
An organizational identity is the way that the people (or members) of the organization
make sense of who we are and what we value. The organizational identity should be
salient to all members, and we often express the identity in our marketing and public
relations efforts, yet we also express it internally by what we do. In my own theorizing, I
argue that an HSI organizational identity is strongly correlated with the organizational
culture, and the organizational culture should be grounded in Latine ways of knowing.
Organizational culture, and therefore identity, is most notable in the rituals, policies,
norms, and behaviors of the campus.
We typically create strategic plans every 5 years that lay out the goals and objectives for
how we want to educate students and serve a greater purpose. The strategic purpose is
connected to the strategic plan, and HSIs should develop a strategy for being HSIs within
the plan. This includes a clear statement of our desired outcomes and the efforts we will
make to achieve equitable outcomes for Latine students. I also state clearly that we
should commit to disrupting racism and microaggressions within the organization, as
these experiences prevent us from achieving equity.
Organizational members include all the people in the organization. For HSIs, this starts
with the undergraduate Latine students who drive the federal designation, but it can’t
stop at the students. HSIs should make efforts to recruit and retain members across the
organization who have similar backgrounds and experiences as Latine students,
including graduate students, faculty, staff, and administrators. The diversity of the
membership at HSIs is typically confined to the undergraduates, but it must be
intentionally extended to other folx in the organization. I also call on us to complicate
the “H” in HSIs, as this is not a monolithic group, and include families in our work.
Infrastructure: Curriculum, Co-curriculum, Student Support Services, Physical Infrastructure
The infrastructure is the most tangible dimension on campus because it is the most
germane to what we do as colleges and universities. The infrastructure includes the
things that we do to deliver education, including the curriculum that happens in the
classroom and the co-curriculum that happens beyond the classroom, including things
like high impact practices and involvement in student organizations. These educational
practices should be culturally relevant and center Latine students’ identities and
experiences. The student support services include the areas on campus where we
support students, yet I invite us to ask critical questions about who is using the services,
and who isn’t. If Latine students are not using the service, then you may need to rethink
your delivery. Finally, physical infrastructure includes paintings, murals, campus art,
statues, and other physical embodiments of the campus’s values, which for HSIs should
be Latine and social justice focused.
Governance is the decision-making structures that we use in colleges and universities.
Yet the structures are archaic and often exclusionary. I call on HSIs to rethink the
governance model in order to make it more inclusive of the folxs doing servingness
work. This involves institutional governance, faculty governance, and student
governance. Colleges and universities have relied on a democratic approach to governance, allowing members to vote and be voted into the formal governance model,
yet democracy isn’t aways about equity, with research showing that there are inequities
in the governance and decision-making bodies. HSIs need to approach governance
through a lens of equity, with the goal of equitable participation across position and
Leadership moves us beyond a formal governance and decision-making model to the
people and practices that actually drive change, and they are often not the formal
decision makers on campus. Some of the most effective change makers at HSIs are
grassroots leaders, including non-positional faculty and staff and students who care
deeply about the students and create initiatives and push for policies that actually serve.
In the book I call on us to acknowledge, elevate, and support our grassroots leaders, as
they are often people of color with the greatest drive and commitment (and love) and
who know how to serve Latine students. Get out of their way and support them!
The partnerships that we have with organizations and people beyond the campus can
really drive and enhance servingness, yet we rarely include partners in the conversation
about HSIs. I call on us to include alumni, donors, and community organizations. These
folx are important to the work with do as colleges and universities, yet most HSIs don’t
make them a part of their efforts. In the book I suggests that we invite alumni, donors,
and community members to our HSI conversations, and aim for a mutually beneficial
relationship with these partners.
The final dimension may be one of the most significant to our work as HSIs. The external
influences are the environmental factors that either help or hinder our servingness
efforts. This includes federal and state policies, and for HSIs, the federal agencies that
provide competitive funding earmarked for HSIs. In a contentious state climate, such as
those where anti-CRT, anti-Trans, and anti-woke bills are being proposed and passed,
HSIs will need to be diligent in their efforts to provide a socially just and liberatory
educational experiences, which is possible despite the state’s efforts to block racial
equity work in higher education. This will require HSI leaders and decision-makers to
carefully guide their campuses through this work.
As a freedom dreamer, I believe innovative futures for HSIs are possible. This is your invitation to dream with me about all the possibilities of enacting racial equity, social justice, and collective liberation within HSI spaces.