The U.S. Department of Education designated Elmhurst University as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in the fall of 2021. In order to achieve this, an institution must have enrolled at least 25 percent of its full-time undergraduate students from Hispanic backgrounds for at least three years.
According to Bruce King, vice president of equity and inclusion, this makes EU eligible to apply for opportunities, such as grants, to serve marginalized communities on campus.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing for Elmhurst,” King said. “I think it recognizes who our students are, it recognizes the importance of the education we provide to new communities.”
In light of this new designation, EU created a Title V Grant Working Group. As co-chair of the group, King noted there are plans to provide more significant support and programming to Hispanic, first-generation, and low-income students.
For example, the group recently submitted a three-component grant proposal. The first objective of the proposal is to create an integrated support learning and living center to increase professional development among staff and faculty, which will help them best support Hispanic, first-generation, and low-income students.
Another part of the grant proposal includes plans to increase the participation of these populations in what is called “high-impact” programs — opportunities such as travel away, study abroad, internships, and undergraduate research opportunities. King said this is one of their ultimate goals.
“For many students, it’s hard to participate in [high-impact programs] when it means a loss of income,” said King. “It means that you have to give up your job, or … it comes with a sacrifice. And the grant and what we want to build is our capacity to make those kinds of decisions not solely based on the financial implications.”
The final aspect of the proposal is to improve the curriculum by incorporating cultural literacy. According to Professor Beatriz Gomez-Acuña, this involves implementing theories such as the critical race theory into class syllabi, as well as training professors on topics related to social and cultural awareness.
She noted that there might be new interdisciplinary course offerings that combine course material with knowledge of marginalized communities.
“I think one of the beautiful things about Elmhurst is that we are super creative and very very innovative,” said Gomez-Acuña. “And we have an innovation committee and … the faculty is very clever and really modern and innovative in the way we think.”
Associate Director of Equity and Inclusion Vincent Cascio, who is new to Elmhurst University, also believes in EU’s potential and was drawn to the school for this reason. Cascio previously worked at Elgin Community College (ECC) as a mental health therapist and provided programming and training for faculty, staff, and administration about the barriers the Hispanic community faces.
Since ECC was designated as an HSI as well, he is optimistic about seeing this designation come to EU.
“I’m excited that Elmhurst is a designated HSI,” Cascio said. “I’m looking forward to kind of doing all the work here I wasn’t able to do at ECC. So it’s cool — I love it.”
EU senior Nayrin Banuelos, president of the Latino Student Association (LSA) and a staff writer for The Leader, believes the HSI designation will help Hispanic students gain more funding for their education and representation on campus.
However, she wished EU would have addressed Elmhurst’s Hispanic population before moving forward with their grant proposal, as this would ensure that representation would be better tailored to the Hispanic community.
“I think this is a step in the right direction for supporting Hispanic students here on campus,” Banuelos said. “However, I hope that this will shed light on the visibility within the community so that we can be more noticed and represented within these bigger decisions that the administration makes.”
Banuelos is already planning to increase the visibility of the Hispanic community on campus. For instance, she is working with LSA to create a large-scale event at the beginning of the school year that will include a panel where Hispanic students can learn more about the funding.
Christian Guzaro-Cruz, vice president of LSA, is proud of the HSI designation but pointed out one flaw in the title.
“The only thing I would [like is] to be more inclusive in the title HSI because it’s Hispanic; personally, I don’t identify as a Hispanic,” Guzaro-Cruz said. “I identify as a Latino, but I still see the point of the whole HSI because it’s definitely a big deal and a big move for the college — for the university.”