What It Means to Be a Hispanic Serving Institution

Chicanx and Latinx students sit down together at the Chicanx and Latinx Fall Welcome Event
Dawson Diaz/ UC Davis

Being a Hispanic/Latinx-identifying student at one of the largest UCs has opened my eyes to the limitations we as a community face. UC Davis being on the map as a federally recognized Hispanic Serving Institution means more diversity on our campus and support for students where their concerns are heard. UC Davis becoming an HSI would help create a bridge to close the gap between low-income people of color and higher education. 

UC Davis’ HSI Initiative

Emmanuel Fonseca smiling along with a group at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities event.
Emmanuel Fonseca/ UC Davis

Toward the end of my third year at UC Davis, one of my mentors asked me to explain my thoughts about the university’s HSI initiative, called AVANZA. After reading about the HSI movement at UC Davis, I have grown fascinated about the potential impact HSI can have on me and future Aggies.

To me, UC Davis becoming a designated HSI means opportunities for struggling Hispanic/Latinx students pursuing higher education. Federal recognition means that no student who seeks support will be turned away because of lack of funds. 

What is an HSI?

An HSI is a federal designation granted by the government which opens opportunities for funding and assistance designed to fit the needs of minority student populations in higher education. For a university to be granted HSI status, it needs to serve at least 25% of Hispanic and Latinx/Chicanx students. 

UC Davis’ HSI efforts were first introduced by Chancellor Gary S. May in 2018. The Chancellor invited scholars, community leaders, professors and faculty to form an HSI task force in attempts to diversify this institution. The task force's goal is to curate an inclusive environment where everyone, regardless of their race, feels included. The university felt that the most effective way to do this is by growing communities of color and providing resources for them to succeed in higher education. 

UC Davis recently received recognition by the Department of Education for being an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander serving institution. The HSI initiative is the next step for UC Davis to become a minority serving institution along with receiving the proper funding to provide opportunity not only for AANAPISI students but also the Hispanic/Latinx/Chicanx student population. 

Across the U.S., there are about 560 HSIs, and 176 are in California alone. With California’s vastly diverse population, broader social institutions saw it as essential to accommodate the emerging diverse population. Education is no longer dominated by white middle class individuals as it once was. The representation of minority groups is growing across the country, and in California alone, more than 40% of the state is Hispanic or Latinx. However, these individuals still make up one the lowest percentages of groups who earn college degrees. These trends have prompted officials to create initiatives such as HSI to provide resources for Hispanic and Latinx/Chicanx students  and to retain them. 

According to Lina Mendez, the director of the HSI initiative at UC Davis, in 2021-2022 the university had a Hispanic population of 25.1% out of the 25% required to be federally recognized as an HSI. However, the federal government does not consider undocumented Hispanic identified students in this 25% margin. Without counting our undocumented population, the university is at 24.1%. 

UC Davis receiving HSI status would provide access to resources that could maintain the wellbeing of our most vulnerable populations. Although these efforts cannot erase the years of oppression and stigmatization that have been inflicted onto minorities by the majority, it is a small step to ensuring equality and fairness in the U.S. education system. 

The United States has become increasingly racially and ethnically diverse. A more diverse population means more accommodations need to be made. Institutions and workplaces are increasingly pushing measures to ensure minority communities feel included. Today, a student would walk through an institution like UC Davis and see someone who looks like them, resources curated to fit their needs, and faculty who understand where they are coming from. It is initiatives such as HSI that make all these opportunities possible, a written document that aims to aid and support students of color. 

Why are HSIs important? 

Becoming an HSI has the potential to provide a space where scholars feel like they can attain a degree and know they have a support system along the way. It creates opportunities that are funded by HSI grants and even supports Hispanic-identifying faculty members. How might institutions better serve underserved populations? The answer to this question is transparency — clear communication between university constituents, professors, faculty and the student body. Only then can institutions such as UC Davis truly be an environment that supports ethnic minority students. 

Historically, education has been dominated by white middle class elites who have privatized something that should be considered a fundamental human right. These attitudes stem from  centuries of systemic oppression, racism and discrimination of people of color, intentionally excluding minority populations from the education system.

HSI along with many other diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are a response to the years of discriminatory policies made against people of color. The more institutions start to become a hub for ethnic minority learning, the sooner the nation can acknowledge that the country is becoming more diverse. HSI has the potential to create substantial reform to ensure equity and inclusion for everyone, not just for those who the system was initially created for. 


Emmanuel Fonseca smiling in front of UC Davis's Mrak Hall
Emmanuel Fonseca/ UC Davis

Emmanuel Fonseca is a fourth-year student at UC Davis studying sociology and communication. Emmanuel’s favorite movie franchise is Harry Potter, he is a member of the Slytherin House, and has a collection of artifacts related to the series. You can catch Emmanuel spending most of his time on the top floor of the Hutchinson Field parking structure and watching the sunset after a long day of work. Click here to read about his experience as a Hispanic first-gen student at UC Davis!


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