Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities are Rebuilding a More Resilient and Inclusive America
October 14, 2022
Campus educators and students, corporate leaders, and elected officials met in San Diego this past weekend for the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities’ (HACU) first in-person national conference since the pandemic disrupted higher education and all of our major civic institutions.
The conference’s theme was “Championing Hispanic Higher Education Success: Rebuilding a More Resilient and Inclusive America”. As Hispanic Heritage Month closes, one theme permeated the robust exhibit hall, many diverse presentations, and dynamic keynotes – that of looking, moving and leading forward. Alongside a deep expressed appreciate for the opportunities available in the U.S., the invitation was clear – let us work together to make it easier for more of the Latino/a/x community to experience belonging, thrive on campus and in the workplace, and continue to contribute to the American project.
The final presentation of the conference saw Irma Becerra-Fernandez, President of Marymount University, moderating a discussion with executives from three energy companies discussing the immense job opportunities presented by the current transformation in the energy sector to clean energy. Hispanic and Latino/a/x communities, as imperfect as that category may be, are among the fastest growing and youngest populations in the United States. The panel’s speakers expressed their needs to: 1) fill the growing number of positions now and in the near future and cultivate a talent pipeline, and 2) represent and reflect the growing ethnic and racial diversity of the communities they serve. At the end of the session the president of HACU, Dr. Antonio Flores, and Jose L. Perez, the president of Hispanics in Energy, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cement a partnership between the two bodies.
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This theme of connecting to the power of the diverse Latino/a/x community permeated presentations about policy advocacy, alongside a range of theoretical frameworks and programs for ensuring that the designation of a Hispanic Service Institution is anchored in a community informed and data reinforced ongoing interrogation of what it means to serve. Dr. Marla Franco, the University of Arizona’s Assistant Vice Provost for Hispanic Serving Initiatives, who often consults with emerging HSIs, advises that campus leaders lead with an asset based approach, build genuine partnerships with offices and departments across campus as well as community colleges that feed into the institution, and anchor their work in the evolving frameworks and best practices being established in the field.
In a panel on policy advocacy partnerships that bridge higher education, communities and elected officials, Dr. Angel Luis Molina, Jr. reminded the room that “Data quality is a matter of public policy. It relies on the quality of research design” and relies on both quantitative and qualitative data. In that same discussions, Supervisor Nora E. Vargas of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors said that she heard too many times, “We just don’t have that data.” Vargas partners with community organizations, academic researchers and non-partisan agencies to get the data, to get the information that can inform policies and claim the political power that her constituents’ numbers warrant. Vargas has leveraged her experience as a product and former administrator at a Hispanic Service Institution, alongside an impressive resume, to shape policies aimed at Latino/a/x residents that have yielded benefits for all of her residents in areas of public health, housing, food access and public transportation.
Interfaith America has partnered with Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities for several years, including a powerful conversation with the trailblazing leader Dolores Huerta and HACU President, Antonia Flores. In its nearly 40 years of existence HACU has grown from 18 to more than 500 institutions as part of its network. This organization, network, and gathering, are leading the way toward a truly more resilient and inclusive America and their invitation is open for colleges and universities, employers and policy makers to join with them.