A message from the Latinx Leadership Group

Changing demographics, demand, and resources

February 19, 2021

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Juan Poblete, Co-chair, professor in Literature, Spanish Studies and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies
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Theresa Maria Linda Scholz, Co-chair, Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer
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A chart detailing the race and ethnicity of UCSC students, faculty, and staff. Note that this level of (under) representation of Latinx faculty and managerial staff, to pick two striking examples, are among the most inclusive in the UC system.
The Latinx Leadership Group at UCSC is a staff and faculty group dedicated to helping the campus achieve its maximum potential as a land-grant public institution committed to teaching, research and public service. We contribute to that task by making the campus reflective of the people of California, being an engine of social mobility, and being an institution capable of producing just and sustainable economic progress for all Californians. To do this, we engage with decision-makers at the campus, system and community levels. Chancellor Cindy Larive and Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer are fully committed to increasing the graduation rates of all our students, by, among other ways, closing the racial gaps and creating an inclusive institution.

Changing demographics, demand, and resources
Here are a few data points about California that provide helpful context:

In 1970 13.7% of the population of California was Hispanic. In 2019 that figure was 39.3%, or 16 million, constituting the biggest racial or ethnic group in the state. Today 54% of all students in public education from K-12 is Latin@. These demographic changes redefined the social landscape of California in the last fifty years and the ensuing cultural, political and economic challenges and possibilities. These changes coincide with a significant defunding of public education in general, and of the UC system in particular. The pipeline of Latin@ Californians from K-20 (Kindergarten to graduate school) has increased, met by decreasing resources to address the needs of a significantly diversified population at the college level. Our group seeks to intervene by furthering the goals of Latin@s access to and success in the University of California, as part of a broader agenda for social justice and progress for all in our state.

The UC Santa Cruz Challenge
In the last 30 years UCSC has doubled its undergraduate size and more than tripled its Latin@ student population. In 1991, there were 8700 undergraduates, of whom 9.5% were Latinos and 67.7% were white – mostly upper and middle class. Today there are 17,500 undergraduate students, 30% are Latinos and 37% are white; approximately 50% are first generation, and a similar percentage are Pell grant eligible (low income). Not only has the campus considerably grown in size but its ethno-racial and socio-economic composition has radically changed, similar to California. The campus challenge today is how to fulfill its public education mission when more than 63% of its students are what is still – but inadequately – called minorities, many from working class backgrounds with low cultural and social capital. When underprivileged minorities become the majority of students the institution must educate, success in achieving its goals depends on the capacity to adapt and respond to that change.

One of the most important adaptations the university needs to make is to ensure that the composition of the campus as a whole reflects the demographics of the state. 

Change on the way
But change has come to UCSC. Chancellor Cindy Larive and Campus Provost /Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer are fully committed to increasing the graduation rates of all our students, by, among other ways, closing the racial gaps and creating an inclusive institution. UC Santa Cruz was designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution in 2012 (undergraduate population of more than 25% Hispanic students). A robust HSI initiative on campus is giving real meaning to the designation through proof of concept interventions to improve the quality of instruction, advising, mentoring and the overall structure of support for Latinx students. To date, The HSI Initiative has received multiple grants totalling more than $16 million supporting these efforts; two Associate Deans for Diversity and Inclusion in the Physical and Biological Sciences and Social Science division are in place, and five faculty networks for faculty of color and Women in STEM have formed.

This work is personal
For us—a full professor in Literature, Spanish Studies and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies, and an Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer—our institutional roles and commitments to supporting our HSI efforts, the diversification of faculty and staff, the success of all of our students, and in particular, our Latina/Latino/Latinx/Chicana/Chicano/Chicanx students are strongly informed by our own lived experiences as Latin and Latina/o Americans.

We both have experienced the impacts of dictatorial governments on our families in Chile, Argentina and Guatemala. We both have witnessed the pains of war and political upheavals, and continued to strive for our education as we both understood its power. We both are first generation college students, and have overcome resistance and being made to feel that we did not belong in the institutions we attended.

While much has changed since we completed our degrees, we still must work to transform higher education so that Latinx students do not need to question if they belong and, here at UCSC, make them feel welcome, regardless of their status or origin. They have earned that support and we owe it to them.

We invite you to join in this effort. Your experiences and successes are so important to our Latinx Banana Slug community. Moreover, your support to our Latinx Banana Slug Community by mentoring, giving, speaking, can profoundly encourage and benefit our students. We also invite all Latinx Banana Slug alumni to join us in supporting other BIPoC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students. Our comunidades need to work together for our ultimate goal: student success. When our students succeed, that means our communities have also succeeded.