Q&A with HSI expert Dr. Gina A. Garcia

Dr. Gina A. Garcia, a researcher and assistant professor in the department of Administrative and Policy Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. Garcia will be speaking at Humboldt State University on May 2nd about what it means to be a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI).

Garcia’s research centers on issues of equity and justice in higher education with an emphasis on three core areas: Hispanic Serving Institutions, Latinx college students, and race and racism in higher education.

Editor’s Note: The responses have been shortened for clarity and size.

Why are HSIs so important to you?

“I went to a Cal State. I graduated from Cal State Northridge. I consider myself the product of an HSI. I’m driven by the fact that I believe in the undergraduate space. I believe that colleges and universities can be transformative and for me, that was the case. As a researcher, I look at the student experience, student organizations or the curriculum. That’s why it’s very personal for me for HSIs to do well. I don’t think they’re doing as good as they can and I want them to do better when serving Latino students.”

The Hispanic faculty at HSU has been somewhere between 4-5 percent the last couple of years, is that a problem?

“Humboldt State is not unique in that sense. HSIs are HSIs because they’re diverse at the student level, and some of my recent work shows that they’re actually not diverse at the graduate level. It’s not just the faculty that represents the students but also administrators. Are we doing a good job at encouraging Latino students to go to graduate programs, that’s my narrative now and I’ll talk about that at Humboldt. It is a problem, whether or not you can serve students. Your faculty, administrators and graduate students have to come to reflect the undergraduate population.”

What does it mean to serve Hispanic students?

“This is the core of my work – what does it mean. If there was one question I was trying to answer every day of my life, it is that question. It’s multidimensional and it’s not just one thing. For administrators, I spend a lot of time on the organizational structure and that being a colonial structure. You can’t serve colonized people within a colonial structure and not only is it about the admissions process but also about the curriculum structure; what are you teaching. How are you getting folks on board to serve Latino students? They have to have a reason for the most part because that’s just the way faculty and staff are – you have to be motivated to actually do it. Also, are people being held accountable when bad things happen like racism? Is the institution holding people accountable for being racist? For me, that’s the big thing, what are you doing organizationally to become more Hispanic serving.”

Why do you think there is a gap between Hispanic enrollment and Hispanic serving?

“Most institutions are Hispanic enrolling. Most people at HSIs believe they’re Hispanic enrolling – I’ve never met anyone that’s said “yeah we’re Hispanic serving, we’re doing such a good job.” Nobody says that. But you have to be doing something good because you’re enrolling them and that’s a good thing – Humboldt has got to be doing something to get latino students up to Humboldt. The gap is huge and most people recognize the gap and that’s where all of my work has been, how do we fill the gap. I don’t think there’s a model HSI out there and I discourage people from looking for one because there’s not one. Every institution needs to be their own HSI.”

Why is it important to have these conversations?

“It’s important to have these conversations because if not, then we’re going to continue to be Hispanic enrolling and not serving. Or, in reality, we are going to continue to be whiter institutions. The conversations need to happen, or we’re not going to transform institutions.”

If HSU is serious about serving Hispanic students, then who needs to come to your talk?

“Administrators, the president and deans, because they can make the changes. Faculty, because students can avoid every single space on campus except the classrooms. Students as well, they need to be vocal and voice their concerns and say ‘that’s not good enough.’ Campus police too, the chief of police, librarians, and institutional researchers. Also the university advancement people. But for sure the administrators, they have to be involved.”

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