Fresno State celebrates its designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution

Caroline Alvarez speaking during the student panel. (Marcos Acosta/The Collegian)

Fresno State held its first celebration of National Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) Week on Thursday, Sept. 15, commemorating the university’s status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution with the event “¡Adelante!: Envisioning Our Next Century of Service y Excelencia.”

The celebration, which took place in the Library Ellipse Gallery, featured speeches from Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval, Provost Xuanning Fu and ASI President Caroline Alvarez. Many of the speakers emphasized striving to support all students from different backgrounds.

“Our community is all of us, just like the success of Asian American [students], Pacific Islander students, African American students and all students,” Fu said. 

Jiménez-Sandoval expanded on that sentiment throughout his remarks, explaining the need for the university to break cultural expectations. 

“We must change [our] dynamic in order to move forward as a community and as a country as well,” Jiménez-Sandoval said. “It’s so important that we begin to shift the cultural mindset that we have of seeing who is a scientist, who is a politician, who is a doctor.”

Fresno State has been designated as an HSI for over 15 years, according to Fresno State News.

The event also featured three panels with students, staff and faculty to discuss what it means to be an HSI and shared personal experiences regarding how the university had helped them achieve academic success.

“To me, it’s breaking down barriers,” said Ashley Garcia, a graduate student and secretary for the Chicano Writers and Artists Association. “Often here on campus we have students who are first generation college students. When I think back to my experience and how difficult it was, I just had to remind myself that we do belong here.”

Garcia said that in the future she hopes Fresno State will encourage “more authenticity within our Latinx and Hispanic students” to preserve their culture while on campus.

Maribel Olea, admission lead in the Office of Admissions and Recruitment, shared a personal anecdote about a Hispanic student whose inability to pay for orientation caused his application to be withdrawn. Olea, after speaking to the student and learning more about his circumstances, said she went to her director to get the student readmitted into the university.

 “For me, that’s crucial. Being a staff [member] here at the university and having that support, it really empowers me to continue advocating for students when I have the support, when I can make that change, because I can be the voice of that student,” she said.

The event concluded with the faculty panel, which focused on changes that faculty want to see in the future. 

“Social work is based on [the] Western philosophy of helping. How can we invest more into research that looks at other ways of helping that are not Western-centric?” said Reuben Addo, an assistant professor in the College of Health and Human Services. “How do we find teaching approaches that are more appropriate for the communities that we serve?”

Melanie Hernandez, an associate professor and Chair of the English Department, said that she hopes to see a shift in the university’s culture and called for more administrative training, financial investment and leadership opportunities to get “people of color positioned into administration.”

“There’s a reason why women of color leave disproportionately. There are a lot of cultural microaggressions, and sometimes overt aggressions, but they’re not always legible within the legal policy structures that we have in place,” Hernandez said. “I don’t think that the people in positions of decision-making, whose responsibility is to address some of these problems, recognize the nuances of how this can disproportionately affect people who don’t fit neatly into the categories that they’re familiar with.”

As an HSI, Fresno State has access to federal grants aimed at helping Hispanic students with success in obtaining both undergraduate and post-baccalaureate degrees. Fresno State was also recognized last year with the Seal of Excelencia for its commitment to serving Latinx students.

Fresno State will continue to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with events in September and October. The annual event “La Bienvenida” is next up on Sept. 21 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Memorial Gardens in front of the Kennel Bookstore featuring entertainment, DJ music and a resource fair. Attendees are encouraged to wear cultural attire to share their culture with other attendees and to RSVP.

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