HSI Taskforce Report | Values

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An Equity Project

The recommendations in this document assume as a principle that equity is essential to our identity and sustainability as an institution. This means fulfilling the premise and promise of higher education by providing opportunities for individuals who have been marginalized to elevate themselves, their families and communities, while striving to improve society through teaching, research and service.

The Taskforce also 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 has operated to preclude 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 rooted in ties to family and community and often guided by more collectivist values and practices; and
  • reexamine and identify institutional structures that may serve as barriers to success.

The future and relevance of the University of California depends on our ability to educate the largest 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 to firmly establish our legacy of inclusive excellence. Demonstrating a true commitment to Chicanx/Latinx students is foundational in the UC Davis argument to the state legislature to invest more money as well, especially as federal funds to Hispanic Serving Institutions dwindles. 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. Equity pays off when it is recognized as a long-term institutional investment of both resources and strategic focus.

Figures 1-3 below illustrate the broader context for the findings in
this report. source: campaign for college opportunity (2018a)

Chicanx/Latinx students occupy a unique place in the civil rights struggle of California and the nation. California is where the international border with Mexico was redrawn through war and where today the largest population of Chicanx/Latinx in the nation reside. California is the site of a powerful agricultural worker rights movement and also of the Zoot Suit riots which highlight the economic

oppression and racial tensions that have characterized the experiences of Chicanx/Latinx communities in the state (Mendoza, V., 2001). Chicanx/Latinx students have had to bear the legacy (de jure) and persistence (de facto) of unequal and segregated K-12 education (Donato, R., Hanson, J., 2012), and the denial, until recently, of bilingual (MoraModules, 2018) and culturally-responsive education (Hanley, M.S. and Noblit, G.W., 2009).

California is also the site of historic struggles for equity in education. In 1945, for example, five Mexican-American families challenged raced-based school desegregation in Orange County in the landmark case Mendez v . Westminster which declared that school segregation based on race violated constitutional equal protection guarantees (Mendez, et al v. Westminster School District of Orange County, et al, 64 F. Supp. 544, S.D. Cal. 1946). In 1968, Chicanx/Latinx students in Los Angeles staged citywide walkouts to protest their unequal treatment by the school districts, including being punished for speaking Spanish. While the walkouts initially resulted in violence, it would ultimately lead to reforms that increased the number of Chicanx/Latinx students attending college (Mendoza, V., 2001). In 1999, California agreed to end years of litigation and political battles over Proposition 187, a controversial ballot measure which, among other things, sought to deny an education to undocumented children. In 2001, California became a pioneer state to grant in-state tuition to undocumented students through Assembly Bill 540 (AB540), the constitutionality of which was affirmed by California’s Supreme Court, paving the way for at least 16 more states and the District of Columbia to do the same (National Conference of State Legislatures, 2019, January 16).

Figure 4. of all undergraduates at Uc Davis, the group who identified as chicanx latinx also had the highest proportion of students identifying as first generation (neither parent with a bachelor's degree). source: Uc Davis student information systems
Figure 4. of all undergraduates at Uc Davis, the group who identified as chicanx latinx also had the highest proportion of students identifying as first generation (neither parent with a bachelor's degree). source: Uc Davis student information systems

Today, Chicanx/Latinx communities in California experience disparities in income, housing, and health, to name a few (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, 2019). A 2017 study conducted by the California State Legislature Latino Caucus found that from 2010 to 2016 Chicanx/Latinx tended to earn less than Californians as a whole and were underrepresented among Californians higher income brackets, overrepresented among Californian’s lower income brackets, and more likely to live in poverty. For example, 20% of Chicanx/Latinx California residents as compared to 14% of Californians live below the 100% poverty level, while 28% versus 19% live below the 125% poverty level and 35% versus 24% below the 150% poverty level. In terms of health coverage and access, from 2011 to 2012, Chicanx/ Latinx residents were more likely than the general population not to have health insurance (22% versus 15%) or, if they had insurance, they were more likely covered by a publicly funded health coverage program such as Medical. Chicanx/Latinx were also more like to report less than optimal health status (California Senate Office of Research, 2014).

This legacy and reality situates the HSI designation as an opportunity for UC Davis to play an important role in promoting equity through higher education for Chicanx/ Latinx communities. More Chicanx/Latinx are enrolling in college than ever before. In less than a decade, Chicanx/ Latinx college enrollment has substantially increased.

In 2010-2011, just over 700,000 Chicanx/Latinx were enrolled in college in California, comprising around 22 percent of all undergraduates. By 2016-2017, over 1.3 million Chicanx/Latinx were enrolled in college in California, about 40 percent of all undergraduates (Campaign for College Opportunity, 2018, November). Of these, four percent attend a UC while 13 percent attend a California State University and 72% attend a community college. While still too few, four percent still means that more than 85,000 Chicanx/Laitnx students are being educated in the UCs in 2017 (Ibid. p. 10). The increased number of Chicanx/Latinx in college in California is impressive especially given that of all groups, the Chicanx/Latinx group has the highest proportion of first-generation students (Ibid. p. 13). At the University of California, including at UC Davis, three out of four Chicanx/Latinx were first in their families to attend college in 2016-2017 (Ibid. p. 10). Given that college completion remains an important path toward upward social mobility (College Track, 2019), the University of California and UC Davis in particular plays an important role in serving as an engine of social mobility for the students educated here; to transform the communities from where they come; and to contribute through research and public service, the improvement of the lives to Chicanx/Latinx communities in California, the nation, and the world. (See infographics from the report issued by the Campaign for College Opportunity [2018a])

Figure 5. of all undergraduates at Uc Davis, the group who identified as chicanx latinx also had the highest proportion of students identifying as low income in 20172018 (eligible for federal and/or state student aid). source: Uc Davis student information systems
Figure 5. of all undergraduates at Uc Davis, the group who identified as chicanx latinx also had the highest proportion of students identifying as low income in 20172018 (eligible for federal and/or state student aid). source: Uc Davis student information systems

In a 2016 piece in Inside Higher Ed, Byron P. White introduced the term “rising scholar” to push colleges and universities to move from a deficit framework to an asset-oriented view of all students, including minorities, low income, and first-generation students.

In this report, we incorporate the term Rising Scholars to shift our focus away from traditional definitions of academic performance and success that compare majority students to minority students to explain the underperformance of minority students almost exclusively as a problem of the students. For example, we mostly measure college performance gaps between white college students and historically underrepresented students, continuing-generation with first-generation college students, or middle-class students and students from low-income communities, which have historically led us to explain these gaps using deficit thinking models (e.g., Delpit, L., 1995; Sanz, E. C., Molto, M. C. C., Puerta, J. M. G., 2015; and Valencia, R. R., 1997). Implicitly, deficit thinking models posit that students who underperform, “do so because of alleged internal deficiencies (such as cognitive and/or motivational limitations) or shortcomings…such as familial deficits and dysfunctions. Given the endogenous nature of deficit thinking, systemic factors (for example, school segregation; inequalities in school financing; curriculum differentiation) are held blameless” (Valencia, 1997, p. xi). Less common in the assessment of college performance are institutional reflections of how a university’s academic culture, vis-à-vis teaching and assessment methodologies (e.g., class size, lecturing vs. experiential learning) or larger societal economic trends (e.g., food or housing insecurity) aggravate factors that lead to gaps in student achievement or the ability to participate in co-curricular activities. Shifting from the premise that “students need  us” to one of recognizing that “students bring value to their institutions” presents an important but nonetheless difficult challenge to institutions of higher education.

None of this is to say that we are not concerned about the comparative performance gaps in college achievement between Chicanx/Latinx students and other student groups. For example, at California colleges and universities, including at UC Davis, in the last decade, graduation rates for Chicanx/Latinx students have improved but they have not kept pace with white students’ graduation rates and racial equity gaps have been increasing (Campaign for College Opportunity, 2018, November). Rather, we seek to shift the explanations for these gaps away from a solely student deficit lens to one that also embraces institutional ownership and reflection about the way in which our current approaches to teaching and our culture may be contributing to the gaps. We want to challenge the common narrative that we hear often and sometimes as the sole explanation about these trends: the so-called cultural deficit that accompanies Chicanx/Latinx students who enroll at UC Davis, at no fault of their own, based on inadequate preparation due to persistent inequities in K-12 public education in the United States. Without dismissing these factors as an important consideration, in this report, the Taskforce has also focused on presenting research that offers alternative explanations, with a greater focus on what UC Davis can and must do differently to improve the academic experiences of Chicanx/Latinx students to close these so-called gaps in achievement.

We try 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. Under the federal HSI designation, the focus has traditionally been on improving the lot of “needy” or “low income” undergraduate students who identify as “Hispanic” through targeted grants. As described in more detail below, the proportion of low-income Chicanx/Latinx students at UC Davis is greater than the proportion among the general student population. In our approach, we have sought to be responsive to the profile of our HSI students at UC Davis and address the particular needs of the majority of this population.

A Culture of Belonging

The HSI Taskforce believes that UC Davis institutional commitment to the success of Rising Scholars must mean engaging in a project of creating a culture in which Risings Scholars students feel they belong. Identifying nuances in achievement gaps and student experiences by race/ethnicity is akin to examining the edges of a complex web of factors spun together by student characteristics and institutional agents. These factors include social and financial stressors, sense of belonging at an institution where students do not see themselves represented, or collectivists values conflicting with the ways in which the institution measures individual achievement. This report assumes these factors work as a system and require a set of equally-complex and complementary solutions. Any and all solutions adopted and supported by UC Davis will signal to Rising Scholars that we value them and that they belong at UC Davis.

Research has shown that building supportive learning environments relies on increasing student sense of belonging. Sense of belonging can be defined in several ways. This report is guided by two perspectives: (1) Social Psychology and (2) Critical Race Theory. Social psychologists in recent years have identified social-emotional learning factors, the mechanisms of belonging or social connectedness: “Students with a sense of belonging in school feel socially connected, supported, and respected. They trust their teachers and their peers, and they feel a sense of fit at school. They are not worried about being treated as a stereotype and are confident...they are seen as a person of value” (Romero, C., 2015, p. 1). Moreover, students’ sense of belonging in college likely influence their experiences (Hurtado, S. & Carter, D. F., 1997; Hurtado, S., Alvarez, C. L., Guillermo-Wann, C., Cuellar, H., & Arellano, L., 2012) and engagement with activities that affect desired learning outcomes, such as faculty-student interactions (e.g., office hours), peer interactions, or co-curricular activities (Kuh, G. D., Kenzie, J., Buckley, J. A., Bridges, B. K. & Hayek, J. C., 2006, July). Critical race theorists highlight the importance of understanding campus racial climates and the role racism plays when students experience stereotype threat or microaggressions in learning environments (Solorzano, D., Ceja, M., & Yosso, T. J., 2000).

Both theoretical perspectives highlight that the absence of belonging disrupts a student’s learning cycle which is referred to as a “recursive process.” That is, “as students study and learn and build academic skills and knowledge, they are better prepared to learn and perform well in the future. As students feel more secure in their belonging in school and form better relationships with peers and teachers, these become sources of support that promote feelings of belonging and academic success later” (Yeager, D. S., & Walton, G. M., 2011, p. 283).

Identifying nuanced understandings of how sense of belonging contributes to or detracts from academic achievement will help UC Davis adopt an HSI identity guided by cultural sensibility and humility. Adoption of cultural sensibility and humility within our HSI identity ensures that institutional agents at UC Davis will increase their awareness around personal biases in their knowledge of cultures, policy assumptions (within the education and research enterprises and budget models of the university) and to self-reflect and -critique to address power imbalances in the dynamic between underrepresented minority students, majority peers, and professors. This self-reflection may include a mind shift that questions how UC Davis can use the cultural assets that Rising Scholars bring to their college trajectory to improve the education experience of all students.

To conceive of a R1 HSI campus climate (and accompanying climate assessment tools) for Rising Scholars we rely on the conceptual framework the Multicontextual Model for Diverse Learning Environments (MMDLE) (Hurtado, et. al., 2012) and notion of race-conscious engagement practices (Harper, S. R., 2009). The MMDLE outlines the institutional context for campus racial climate as having five dimensions: (1) historical, or formal policies and informal practices that have excluded or included certain student populations; (2) compositional, or the representation of racial and ethnic groups among the campus community; (3) organizational, or the structural and institutional aspects of the college environment that privilege groups over others; (4) behavioral, or the social interactions students have within and across racial and ethnic groups on campus; and (5) psychological, or students’ perceptions of campus racial dynamics and the resulting impact on their well-being. Taken together, these dimensions outline a campus environment “that integrates inclusive practices, and is also intentional about purpose and knowledgeable about whom they educate” (Hurtado, et al., 2012, p. 104). Harper (2009) defines race consciousness as an institutional feature that compels educators to use firsthand insights from students in self-reflective ways by attentively pondering such questions as: 

  • How do I contribute to the cyclical production of engagement disparities that disadvantage racial minority students?
  • How can I more deliberately engage these students in my research and other value-added, enriching educational experiences on campus?
  • What have I done to help racial minorities who have taken my courses get into competitive graduate schools?
  • How do personal biases and stereotypes affect my engagement with racial minority students? (Harper, 2009, p. 43).

One of the most complex issues facing our campus today is free speech, which has been signaled at the highest levels of the university by the establishment of the National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement. The Center was established by President Janet Napolitano to “explore in a thoughtful, deliberative way the current state of free speech on our college campuses, our relationship with the First Amendment and what the future holds for free speech.” A Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey (2018) found that 72% of college students reject the idea that colleges should be able to restrict speech expressing political views that may upset or offend members of certain groups. At the same time, two-thirds of college students said universities should be allowed to establish policies that restrict slurs and other language intended to offend specific groups of people. In our current political climate, it can be particularly difficult to distinguish between speech that is protected and unprotected, particularly when it is offensive, such as hate speech, or when other compelling university interests or permissible regulations may be at play. If it is not clear where universities should draw the line, then it can be even more difficult for faculty, staff and students to navigate these complex and highly contextual legal spaces on their own.

There is a need for more education about basic free speech principles on campus that raise difficult questions. For example, at what point does speech that attacks people on the basis of race, nationality, sex, religion and other legally protected categories become “severe or pervasive” to create a discriminatory learning environment under federal law? The approach to sexual harassment under Title IX may provide a model on which to base trainings on free speech and provide academically-grounded forums to consider the reasons for its protection with serious consideration given to comparative perspectives and mediated dialogue to reach a mutual understanding. The recent emphasis on victim-informed services for sexual harassment cases might also be informative for victims of Title VI and VII violations. Moreover, hate speech or other forms of offensive speech on college campuses, even when it is constitutionally protected, is not inconsequential and can often provoke deep fear, insecurity, anxiety, and pain and also solidify divisions and conflict among different communities on campus. Faculty may face real divisiveness, sensitive topics, conflict, controversy, and microaggressions in their own classrooms. In some cases, it may be possible for some faculty to attempt to constructively seize these moments as opportunities for profound learning. In other cases, it is also quite possible that both faculty and students are so deeply affected by the offensive speech that they are hindered in their ability to teach or learn. Faculty, staff or students cannot be expected to address these circumstances alone especially when they are the target of the hateful or offensive speech (Flaherty, C., 2019, March 5). Instead, responding to hateful or offensive speech on a college campus calls for a concerted institutional response that approaches it as a collective serious educational project to prepare our students to thrive and serve in a pluricultural society but that also brings a lens of equity to humanizing and acknowledging the hurtful consequences of hateful and offensive speech especially when directed at vulnerable communities.

Figure 6. california in 2016 was already more diverse than all of the U.s. is predicted to be in 2050. source: United states census Bureau Quick Facts accessed august 20, 2017.
Figure 6. California in 2016 was already more diverse than all of the U.s. is predicted to be in 2050. source: United states census Bureau Quick Facts accessed august 20, 2017.

UC Davis as a R1, Land Grant HSI

As a land grant university, UC Davis has a responsibility to offer an accessible and valuable education to California’s residents. “The right to rise,” President Abraham Lincoln claimed in 1862 at the signing of the legislation that created land grant institutions, “that is what makes the American experiment so exceptional.”

The University of California system, and the Davis campus, have extended their impact far beyond the original fields of agriculture and “mechanical arts” and are now also innovating in health care, clean energy, biotechnology, and the information economy. As part of this land grant legacy, UC Davis plays a vital role as an engine of social mobility, educating first-generation college-goers, children of immigrants and the economically disadvantaged. 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.

The state of California can afford nothing less. As home to the largest population of any state, California is also home to one of the most diverse populations in the world. We are experiencing a demographic trend today that most other states will not witness for many more years. As of 2014, the Chicanx/Latinx population became the largest ethnic group in the state, with more than 15 million residents (39%). Additionally, nearly 11 million (27%) residents are immigrants, also the highest proportion of any state in the country (Johnson, H., 2017). The state’s economy also sets it apart from much of the rest of the country; as of 2018, it is the fifth largest in the world, with a GDP of nearly three trillion dollars and an oversized role in new job growth (Segarra, L. M., 2018).

Figure 7. the number of applications from chicanx/latinx students have increased dramatically in the past ten years. Even as applications have increased, the number of admits and enrollees has increased at a much slower pace. source: Uc Davis student information systems
Figure 7. the number of applications from chicanx/latinx students have increased dramatically in the past ten years. Even as applications have increased, the number of admits and enrollees has increased at a much slower pace. source: Uc Davis student information systems

In California, just 12.1% of Hispanic adults have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 43.1% for non-Hispanic whites, the largest college attainment gap of any state. California has the third largest Hispanic population of any state, with 38.6% of residents. The median household income for Hispanics of $52,403/year compares poorly to the $79,353 for non-Hispanic white households (HACU; National Institute for Latino Policy; Pew Research Center).

Furthermore, California’s institutions of higher learning are not keeping pace with the state’s workforce demands nor with the changing needs of California’s racially diverse population. The Public Policy Institute of California estimates that California is likely to face a shortage of college-educated workers–as many as 1.5 million–as soon as 2025 (Campaign for College Opportunity, 2018b). Similarly, in its 2018 “California Higher Education Report Card,” the Campaign for College Opportunity noted that by 2030, California needs to increase its share of adults with college credentials from 50 to 60 percent or 1.65 million college graduates in the next twelve years. To do so, we need to eliminate the racial equity gaps that persist in higher education. To make a UC Davis education relevant, we must meet the needs of California’s enormously complex and diverse economy and identify gaps between the demand and supply of skilled workers.

Figure 7. the number of applications from chicanx/latinx students have increased dramatically in the past ten years. Even as applications have increased, the number of admits and enrollees has increased at a much slower pace. source: Uc Davis student information systems
Figures 8-9. as compared to other groups, he number of applications from chicanx latinx and low income students have increased dramatically in the past ten years. Even as applications have increased, the number of admits and enrollees has increased at a much slower pace. source: Uc Davis student information systems


For example, one of the most dire needs in a “high growth sector” is in health care. UC President Janet Napolitano recently co-chaired the California Future Health Workforce Commission which issued a series of recommendations to help eliminate the shortage of primary care physicians and psychiatrists over the next decade. One of the commissioners, Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing dean emerita Heather Young, says that by 2030, the state’s population over age 65 will double to 9 million. This is also a population that is diverse, with Chicanx/Latinx communities projecting the largest growth and many living in rural communities in the Central Valley and Inland Empire (Anderson, C., 2019, February 4). Yet, only 7% of physicians, 15% of nurse practitioners, and 22% of physician assistants are Chicanx/Latinx in California (California Future Health Workforce Commission, 2017). UC Davis Health, recently recognized as a “Top Hospital for Latinos” (2018, August), is well-situated to educate more health providers with adequate training to serve the health care needs of all Californians.

UC Davis’ HSI designation is thus an opportunity to address California’s workforce disparities and seek to reduce racial and ethnic gaps in higher education. In turn, this will also offer Chicanx/Latinx students significant opportunities for social mobility. As we detail later in this report, Chicanx/Latinx students are overwhelming the first in their family to attend college and nearly half are low-income. We believe this moment provides UC Davis with the opportunity to build a legacy that puts social justice principles to work.

While doing good, UC Davis will also gain in reputation. U.S. News and World Report recently updated their ranking rubric to include metrics around social mobility (U.S. News announces 2019 best colleges rankings, 2018). To compensate for this addition, U.S. News de-emphasized selectivity in admissions into their rankings. These minor changes in the formula translated into gains for five UC campuses as a result of their performance in graduating high proportions of low-income students.1 1 These shifts in the rankings begin, in the words of Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox, “to reverse decades of deference to traditional assumptions of institutional quality” (Jaschick, S., 2018).

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 R1 land grant Hispanic Serving Institution. A commitment to carefully documenting the process of our transformation into a Hispanic Serving Institution and disseminating that information to other research-intensive, land grant, institutions has the potential help transform public education globally.

  • 1. Most notable, UC Riverside moved up 39 spots in the rankings for a three-way tie to No. 85 because of their track record in graduating low-income students of color. UC Santa Barbara also moved from No. 8 to No. 5, UC Irvine moved from No. 9 to No. 7, and UCLA for the first time did not have to share the No. 1 spot for public schools among national universities.