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HSI Taskforce Report | Executive Summary


An asset-oriented view that overtly acknowledges the experiences, firsthand knowledge, talents and contributions of all students who bring a keen sensitivity and insight to issues of social justice, the challenges faced by the majority of people and who are motivated by a sense of interdependence. The Rising Scholars framework replaces the reliance by institutions of higher education on deficit labels–“low income,” “first generation,” “person of color”– deemed to be, first and foremost, indicators of potential failure. Acknowledging the gifts and talents Rising Scholars bring to a university creates the opportunity for them to be fully actualized. (Our adoption and the definition above of “Rising Scholars” derives from Byron P. White, “Beyond a Deficit View,” Inside Higher Ed, 19 April 2016.)

In May 2018, Chancellor May constituted the HSI Taskforce and charged it with making recommendations to improve the success of all our students, including our Chicanx/Latinx students, and to identify reforms and resources necessary to achieve these goals. We learned that there was a real need for collaboration and coordination, for additional resources, and for a vision that would help the campus make better progress on meeting the needs of Rising Scholars.

The following recommendations convey a desire to make a serious contribution and take a leadership role among the small but growing number of R1, Hispanic Serving Institutions. The Taskforce proposes steps towards institutional transformation that expresses an aspiration to close the equity gap in higher education and enable all of our community members, including Rising Scholars, to thrive and reach their full potential.

The Taskforce takes as a guiding principle that the HSI initiative is one of institutional transformation, in which UC Davis must:

  • comprehend that its legacy as a predominantly white, elite institution precludes cultural equity and undermines a sense of belonging for Rising Scholars;
  • see and value assets such as multilingualism; multiculturalism; leadership, creativity, resilience; emotional intelligence and empathy;
  • honor the centrality of identities deeply rooted in ties to family and community and often guided by more collectivist values and practices;
  • boldly identify and reexamine institutional structures that may serve as barriers to success.

As a participant in the California Master Plan for Higher Education and a collaborator in K-14 programs, UC Davis must invest in growing the pipeline and preparing students for higher education, especially in underserved communities. At UC Davis, serving this population means fulfilling the premise and promise of higher education by providing opportunities for individuals to rise and elevate themselves, their family, their communities and society through teaching and learning, research and service. If we meet our goals we will also meet the needs of California’s enormous, complex and diverse economy as we will fill gaps in the demand and supply of skilled workers.

Student Engagement Forum, November 5, 2018
Student Engagement Forum, November 5, 2018

As a land grant university, UC Davis has a responsibility to offer an accessible and meaningful education to all California residents. With this responsibility also comes an opportunity: An opportunity for us to produce research that addresses the problems of society and the disparities affecting vulnerable communities; to think deeply about producing a workforce that fills gaps in industries but also in geographic areas, such as the Central Valley; and to position UC Davis as a leader among the very few but growing number of R1 HSI universities.

Many opportunities for students, faculty and staff also lie in our HSI designation. For students, it means a better education, greater access to opportunity and deeper connections to faculty and the institution. Faculty and staff have a greater opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students; help solve societal problems through their research and the education of future leaders; and increased resources to research and implement important and visionary projects.

In moving beyond access, the UC Davis HSI Initiative enables Rising Scholars to tap into the college-going experiences and professional networks that often accompany social mobility, while bringing into those environments their own personal and cultural assets that will move society forward through real cultural and social integration.

Why “Rising Scholar”? We have adopted the concept of Rising Scholars to signal our move away from a student deficit framework and towards one that views institutional transformation as the basis of our future success integrating historically underrepresented student populations. In this respect, the Taskforce adopted an ambitious framing that situates the UC Davis HSI designation as an equity project and as an extension of a civil rights struggle that must be embedded in the core mission of a California, public research, land grant institution.

Vision: Through the HSI initiative, we envision UC Davis as a culturally responsive learning
community that fulfills the mission of a Research 1 and land grant university, closing the equity
gap in higher education; enabling all of its community members, including Rising Scholars,
to thrive and reach their full potential; and elevating our excellence in public service and scholarship

In our approach, we have sought to be responsive to the profile of our HSI students at UC Davis and to attempt to address the particular needs of the majority of this population. We also tried not to be too narrow in our definition of who can be counted as a “Rising Scholar” since we believe that, in the end, the experiences of our HSI students are also shared by many other students on campus.

Chicanx/Latinx students do, however, occupy a unique place in California’s and the nation’s civil rights struggles. California is the site where the international border with Mexico was redrawn through war and where today the largest population of Chicanx/Latinx in the nation reside. Chicanx/Latinx students have had to bear the legacy (de jure) and persistence (de facto) of unequal and segregated K-12 education, and the denial, until recently, of bilingual and culturally responsive education. Thus this legacy and reality situate the HSI designation as an opportunity for UC Davis to play an important role in advancing the educational equity project we have yet to complete.

UC Davis Student:

"Student success is making sure that all students actually have all the tools and resources available to academically thrive during and after their undergraduate experience. Students should be able to succeed in any academic path they choose despite their socioeconomic backgrounds. First generation and low income students need to be prioritized and provided as much supplemental resources to enrich their academic experience and ensure they can succeed in any field they choose. STEM should be accessible to all students, and students who choose social science should be provided resources to make sure they take advantage of their degrees in this research institution as well."

Chicanx/Latinx students make up 54% of high school graduates in the state of California and approximately four in ten college undergraduates in California are Latinx. However, 72% of Chicanx/Latinx high school graduates in California attend community college rather than 4-year colleges and at the end of two years, only 2% transfer to a 4-year college. At the end of six years, only 31% have transferred. We have to do better than this. There is nothing wrong with community colleges of course, but these students are being tracked down a long and leaky path that actually makes it more costly for Chicanx/Latinx students than if they had enrolled straight into a four-year college. Currently, only 4% of the Chicanx/ Latinx students who enroll in college after high school do so at a UC. No one should dispute the premise that Chicanx/Latinx students need to occupy elite spaces as well, where research and opportunities will open new doors for them and likely lead to better outcomes for all of society (The Campaign for College Opportunity, "State of Higher Education for Latinx in California," 2018).

Equity must be essential to our institutional identity. It acknowledges the economic, social and political marginalization of certain groups and strives to guarantee the fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement for all students, faculty and staff. Institutional inquiry into factors that may explain the academic performance of Rising Scholars should transcend the simplistic student deficit explanation to identify and question structural barriers but also recognize the great work the institution has done thus far. Equity pays off in the form of institutional excellence and relevance when it is recognized as a long-term institutional investment of both resources and strategic focus.

The future and relevance of the UC depends on our ability to educate the largest and growing number of high school graduates in the state—Chicanx/Latinx students. The institutional changes described will likely require additional funds in the short term, but the investment will be worth it in the long term. Demonstrating a true commitment to Chicanx/Latinx students is foundational in the UC Davis argument to the state legislature to invest more, especially as federal funds to Hispanic Serving Institutions dwindle. In turn, the reputational gain from these efforts and successes will generate good will among the public and help UC Davis attract greater numbers of talented students, faculty and staff that inclusive excellence requires.

Image Credit: Urban Archives Cener Latino Cultural Heritage Digital Archives (Frank del Olmo Papers)
Image Credit: Urban Archives Cener Latino Cultural Heritage Digital Archives (Frank del Olmo Papers)

In preparation for this report, the Taskforce hosted nine engagement forums with the campus community in Davis and at the Health Center in Sacramento, including a student panel attended by the Chancellor at the Manetti Shrem Museum, one with staff, a half-day event which also featured speakers from across the state and at various levels of higher education and collected feedback through an online form. Hearing from as broad a spectrum of the campus and regional community as possible was important to inform the Taskforce’s recommendations and to document the work already under way.

The recommendations in this report are also informed by an extensive body of literature in social psychology, student sense of belonging within academic settings and critical race theory. Moreover, we used descriptive statistics to illustrate the composition of our student body and disparate college experience and outcomes (i.e., work load courses, STEM representation, time-to-degree) by student characteristics such as race/ethnicity and first-generation college student status. Where possible our recommendations are informed by UC Davis reports on affordable housing, food insecurity and mental health. The Taskforce interviewed more than sixty stakeholders across the Davis campus (the Davis campus and Health) about their current efforts supporting Rising Scholars and what needs they saw from their position. Because the transformational nature of the recommendations will require cooperation across our shared governance structure, the Taskforce consulted and received input from deans, associate deans, members of the Academic Senate (including the Affirmative Action & Diversity Committee) and the Office of Public Scholarship and Engagement. Additional insights were gained from the in-depth research made available by the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) guidelines on high-impact practices/programs, UC Davis’ Student Retention Advisory Committee Report (June 2017) and Closing the Achievement Gap Report (2019).

In the tradition of qualitative research, our recommendations weave together the work of pioneros–those who have been working on this project for many years–with the testimonios of the present–students, faculty and staff who generously shared with us their aspirations for UC Davis as an HSI. The recommendations in this document stand as an attempt to compile and project those voices in offering UC Davis not only a vision but also a path to become a premier research, land grant, Hispanic Serving Institution.

This view of the complexity and enormity of the changes imagined are not coincidentally aligned with the visions articulated in the Chancellor’s recent “To Boldly Go,” strategic plan and the 2017 “Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Vision.” All three of these reports make similar recommendations about campus priorities and values and readers can track those connections, along with several other key campus reports, in the Strategic Alignments appendix.

Community Engagement Forum, November 1, 2018. Photo by Raul Morales/California Aggie.
Community Engagement Forum, November 1, 2018. Photo by Raul Morales/California Aggie.

Additionally, the Taskforce devoted considerable attention to understanding the work and innovations already already going on across the university and in our regional community to assist our Rising Scholars. We have begun the work of compiling a list of these pioneros, programs, and initiatives and also included as a valuable addition to this report. Finally, the Student Voices section gives voice to some of the many committed Rising Scholars and their allies that we heard from over the course of investigating and writing this report, we hope you will take the time to listen to what they have to say.