Better Serving Latina/o Students by Incorporating their Perspectives

Marcela Cuellar
Assistant Professor
University of California, Davis

Students provide fresh perspectives, enhance our institutions, and have a desire to share their views on how higher education could be improved. As HSIs and emerging HSIs work towards better serving Latina/o students, it seems prudent to consider what students might recommend. Interestingly, many students do not know that they attend a HSI or what this designation even means. However, Latina/o student perspectives can instruct what will make your institution better serving. Why is it important to consider Latina/o student perspectives in this conversation and how do we do it?

Students Have Always Enhanced Higher Education

Students have fundamentally transformed higher education since its inception. From the colonial era to today, students’ perspectives have changed colleges and universities in ways that impact student success. Students initiated the co-curriculum and advocated for a more diverse curriculum that led to the creation of ethnic studies programs, such as Chicano/o Studies.

Latina/o students continue to advocate, organize, and model practices that impact student success. Students have a pulse on what is working and what needs improvement. By spending some time getting to know students, listening to their experiences, and obtaining their feedback, we can build educational environments that honor these perspectives and transform our institutions to better serve them.

Keeping Latina/o Students in the Loop

While administrators, faculty, and staff strive to create the best resources for Latina/o students to succeed, often times students may not take advantage and may not even be aware of what is offered. A key step to better serving Latina/os is to inform them on what being a HSI is and what it can mean for them. This should happen at the stage of developing HSI initiatives and recur in visible, meaningful ways throughout an institution. Colleges and universities can do more to promote the HSI identity and create an institutional culture that enhances Latina/o student success. Keeping Latina/o students in the loop will lead to more student engagement and success.

Emerging HSIs can also proactively inform students and seek their input as an institution moves closer to achieving this designation. At UC Davis, for example, campus leaders have created an institutional website and a series of forums to inform the broader community on HSIs and the institution’s aspirations to become a HSI in the near future. The forums generated much interest and participation from many stakeholders on campus and highlighted student voices.

Incorporating Student Voices

Creating more intentional HSIs requires proactively gathering evidence, ongoing reflection and action. Institutions already collect data that reveals Latina/o students’ experiences and views on how things can be improved. For example, many colleges and universities administer national surveys, such as UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute’s (HERI) Diverse Learning Environments survey or the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), as well as institutional surveys. Student perspectives are further captured through course and program evaluations. These data should be analyzed and disaggregated by race, when possible, to examine how Latina/o students are experiencing your institution and what feedback they provide on enhancing it.

However, it is also important to go beyond these data to further consider perspectives that might be missing. This may mean the creation of new surveys or measures or collecting data through individual and/or group interviews with Latina/o students. Employing multiple methods to incorporate student perspectives will capture a broader range of voices and views. By using the vast sources of institutional data and gathering new evidence, student perspectives can be considered in the design and the evaluation of services offered in an effort to more intentionally serve Latina/os.

Creating a Responsive Institution that Empowers Latina/o Students

It is important to listen to students with an open mind as we invite them to share their perspective or when they take the initiative to share their views with us. Students’ experiences today may counter the experiences of administrators, faculty and staff. Through Latina/o students’ insights, we can create institutions that truly serve them, and not just replicate what we know, which may not align with their own experiences. While not all student input may be possible to institute, some perspectives may provide novel solutions and show students that we aim to serve their needs.

Beyond enhancing our institutions, incorporating Latina/o student perspectives promotes many outcomes we hope to develop. Asking students for their perspective on their education engages them and pushes them to reflect on their learning. Moreover, this requires students to employ critical thinking skills. In turn, such reflective and critical thinking may inspire students to become more involved at your institution, develop their leadership abilities, or become more civically engaged. Thus, by incorporating Latina/o perspectives, we can create an educational environment that serves and empowers Latina/o students to excel in college and beyond.

Dr. Marcela Cuellar is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education at the University of California, Davis. Her research focuses on issues of access and equity, with an emphasis on Latina/o college students and Hispanic-Serving Institutions.