UC Davis ‘Keeps Moving’ to Serve Hispanic Students

Students speak at outdoor event
Students at the 2019 Chicanx and Latinx Bienvenida, a fall welcome event sponsored by the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies. (Dawson Diaz/UC Davis)

Hispanic Outlook Magazine last month named UC Davis as one of the “Top 100 Colleges and Universities for Hispanics,” and the people leading UC Davis’ effort to become a Hispanic-Serving Institution, or HSI, say that’s just a peek at things to come.

“It’s been our past, our present and our future,” said Lina Mendez, director of HSI Initiatives. “I see this as something that can benefit the entire campus, and not just Hispanic students.”

The HSI initiative she oversees has a new name this year: Avanza, Spanish for “keep moving,” in recognition of the ongoing work to recruit and retain Latinx and Chicanx students and ensure they succeed at UC Davis and beyond.

HSI designation from the federal government hinges on demographics, namely the percentage of students who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and are of Hispanic heritage. It would open UC Davis up to opportunities to seek an entirely new category of federal grants.

The federal government requires colleges and universities to have at least 25% of their students be of Hispanic heritage to qualify as an HSI, and UC Davis is very close to meeting that number, Mendez said.

“We’re 150 students away,” she said, noting that the number of Latinx and Chicanx students joining UC Davis fell disproportionately during the pandemic, likely due to financial strain and the inability of Spanish-speaking recruiters to make in-person visits.

Recruiting, sharing info

Photo of Lina Mendez
Lina Mendez

Mendez said she thinks UC Davis can hit that 25% number by next year, and has her eye on a number of efforts to achieve the goal.

She cited new recruiting efforts like Spanish-language ads on Telemundo and Univision, and involving more alumni with events in the Central Valley.

UC Davis will also host the University of California HSI showcase in March, where officials will share the work being done here to recruit, support and graduate Latinx and Chicanx students. Officials from every UC campus will be invited to participate.

Of the nine undergraduate UC campuses, five are HSIs, and four of those are R1 universities like UC Davis, meaning they undertake the highest level of research activity as measured by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. Only 20 R1 universities in the nation have achieved HSI status.

“It’s an opportunity to show our campus and all our sister UCs the great work we’re doing with respect to becoming an HSI,” said Thomas O'Donnell, principal analyst in the Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “In a system that has so many R1 HSIs, it’s also an opportunity to grow together, to learn from one another and multiply the effect of an HSI designation."

More than demographics

Hispanic Outlook Magazine’s ranking, which has UC Davis at No. 71, is based on the number of Latinx/Chicanx students enrolled at a university, and Avanza officials say UC Davis has more to offer than just numbers.


Chancellor Gary S. May has joined the governing board of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, or HACU, reaffirming UC Davis’ commitment to its Latinx and Chicanx students, faculty and staff.

He was among five new board members to start two-year terms on Oct. 9.

“HACU welcomes five new members to our board who are all champions of Hispanic education,” said Mike Flores, chancellor of Alamo Colleges District and the new chair of the governing board. “We look forward to working with them.”

“The plethora of programs that have been advocated for by students, faculty and staff on this campus — that makes it a place that is on the cusp of becoming an HSI, and not just by accident of demography,” O’Donnell said, citing the 1975 launch of the Chicana and Chicano studies major and the Educational Opportunity Program, which has supported underrepresented students since the 1960s. The Cross Cultural Center also has a long history of supporting underrepresented students, having been born out of a student hunger strike in 1990.

“You can trace the work being done on this campus to make it welcoming and a place for success for historically marginalized students,” he said.

Mendez also has experience helping Latinx and Chicanx students succeed. She served as the founding associate director of the UC Davis Center for Chicanx and Latinx Academic Student Success before moving into her current role last year. That study and gathering space, also known as CCLASS or El Centro, offers academic support services like tutoring and academic advising to help students thrive as scholars.

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is also supporting students directly, and last month sponsored 10 students to attend the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities’ annual conference and 22 students to attend the National Diversity in STEM Conference, hosted by the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science.

The entire campus community is invited to participate in the conversation about what becoming an HSI will mean, through a series of talks co-hosted by the School of Law’s Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies. Events were held in October and November, and another is set for March 23.

Mendez said she hopes the process of becoming an HSI — as well as the ongoing efforts that will follow — will be collaborative and involve the entire campus. She said hopes Avanza can help UC Davis maintain its status as a Minority Serving Institution — which comes with additional grant opportunities — by partnering with the Strategic Asian and Pacific Islander Retention Initiative, which is working to maintain the campus’ status as an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution, which was clarified in 2020.

She stressed that HSI designation could fund projects and initiatives that would benefit the entire campus, like expanding advising services and ensuring classes serve all students.

Media Resources

Cody Kitaura is a News and Media Relations Specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications, and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.

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