Photo of College Hall Bell Tower
University News

What it Means to be a Hispanic-Serving Institution

Montclair State University explores its transformation in serving Latinx students, kicks off HSI Week and Hispanic Heritage Month

Posted in: Hispanic Initiatives, Uncategorized, University

Hispanic heritage month flag raising at Montclair State University

Designated a Hispanic-Serving Institution in 2016, Montclair State University is diving into what that title means when it comes to serving Latino students, a growing segment of the student population.

University leaders will explore that question during Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) Week (September 11-17). HSI Week is a lead-in to Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs mid-September to mid-October to coincide with independence days of many Latin American countries.

Associate Provost for Hispanic Initiatives and International Programs Katia Paz Goldfarb says Montclair is solidifying its role as an HSI. “As our Latino student population continues to grow, it’s important that Montclair delves into how serving these students plays into being a leading Hispanic-Serving Institution in our region,” she says “HSI Week provides us an opportunity to both celebrate our achievements as an HSI and examine our goal of increasing our servingness as an institution.”

The College for Education and Engaged Learning will host “The Purpose and Significance of a Hispanic-Serving Institution,” a virtual discussion via Zoom, at 6 p.m. Wednesday, September 13. After graduate students speak about their experiences at Montclair State University, Blanca Elizabeth Vega, associate professor of Education Leadership, and Jane Sanchez Swain, assistant director of degree completion programs with University College, will provide an overview of the significance of HSIs in the northeast and how Montclair’s campus community can embrace its HSI status. (To register, visit the event page.)

Montclair’s HSI standing has become a topic of discussion as its enrollment of Latino students continues to boom. Forty-five percent of the incoming class of 2027 identifies as Hispanic, an increase of 4 percentage points from last year. To be designated an HSI, at least 25% of a university’s student population must be Hispanic or Latinx.

Vega said future plans call for gathering the Higher Education Student Council, Chi Sigma Alpha and the Latin American Student Organization together “for a more formal HSI training and celebratory event dedicated to building community, enacting servingness and supporting community awareness of the significance of HSI status at Montclair State University.”

These deeper conversations began last spring when two nationally recognized Hispanic leaders visited Montclair to talk about how the University, the largest R2 HSI east of the Mississippi and north of Florida, can do more to ensure Latinx student success in higher education. Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities President and CEO Antonio Flores and Gina Garcia, an HSI scholar, activist, author and speaker, both met individually with President Jonathan Koppell and other top leaders, faculty, staff and students.

Gina Garcia behind podium
Gina Garcia, an expert on Hispanic-Serving Institutions presents on the subject at Montclair State University.

Flores said he seized the opportunity to visit Montclair, which also was recognized as a Fulbright HSI Leader for the second consecutive year in 2022, making it one of only 43 colleges and universities in the country to earn the federal designation.

“I wanted to get to know the leadership, the president, the provost and others and to really also express our gratitude for what they do as an institution for the Latino community,” Flores said. “Montclair is a very special Hispanic-Serving Institution because it is one of the largest in this region of the country. It’s very engaged with the work that we do as an association, which is really to promote Hispanic success and higher education. Montclair is setting the pace in that regard.”

About Montclair’s efforts, Garcia said: “The HSI movement has now started. The president, the provost and students actually are saying they care about HSI, so, I think the moment is now. The window is open, and folks like Katia [Paz Goldfarb] and others are taking advantage of it and saying it’s time.”

A professor at Berkeley School of Education, Garcia visited campus at the invitation of Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Junius Gonzales. Garcia, a leading scholar on Hispanic-Serving Institutions and author of two books on the subject, delivered a presentation titled “Transforming Hispanic-Serving Institutions for Equity and Justice” – also the title of her latest book – to an audience of faculty, staff and students at the School of Communication and Media’s Presentation Hall.

Gonzales said Garcia’s research “centers on issues of equity and justice in higher education, with an emphasis on understanding how Hispanic-Serving Institutions embrace and enact an organizational identity for serving minoritized populations. She also seeks to understand the experiences of administrators, faculty and staff within HSIs and the outcomes and experiences of students attending these institutions – and her research looks at the ways race and racism have shaped the experiences of minoritized groups in higher education.”

A man gestures as a woman stands next to him in a room filled with people seated at a large conference table.
Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities President and CEO Antonio Flores talks with students and staff during a visit as Associate Provost for Hispanic Initiatives and International Programs Katia Paz Goldfarb looks on.

Garcia said institutions are in the process of transforming into true HSIs. “It is a very individual sort of soul-searching and inward reflection that needs to happen.”

She noted that she’s usually not invited to HSIs unless leaders are ready to transform into high-producing and high-serving institutions when it comes to student outcomes. “Hispanic-Serving Institutions needed to be transformed at the organizational level,” she said.

During her visit, Garcia covered everything from how most HSIs are still predominantly white when it comes to faculty and retention of faculty of color to a university’s policies and mission to how a school allocates resources. “If we are not distributing resources to the things we say we care about, then we’re actually not committed to those things,” she said.

She urged students to use their voices as a community and ask University administration for things they’d like to see on their campus.

Garcia challenged Montclair faculty and staff to think about the larger higher education picture. “The question I want you to grapple with is: ‘Can we create equitable and just colleges and universities?’”

Jane Sanchez Swain, left, and Blanca Vega, right.
Assistant Director of Degree Completion Programs Jane Sanchez Swain, left, and Associate Professor of Educational Leadership Blanca Elizabeth Vega will host a virtual discussion, “The Purpose and Significance of a Hispanic-Serving Institution,” a virtual discussion via Zoom, at 6 p.m. Wednesday, September 13, during HSI Week.

Goldfarb noted the importance of Flores’ and Garcia’s visits to Montclair: “The ecosystem of an HSI includes students and their families, their communities, the faculty and staff; we support our students and hold their success as our own. At the same time, we need scholars like Dr. Garcia to help us understand, make sense of our ecosystem and engage in the next critical and necessary transformation. We also need to be part of the national HSI conversation. Dr. Flores’ visit allowed for a space to envision Montclair’s crucial role as an R2 HSI, as a regional and national leader.”

A related discussion will take place on September 26, when the Office for Hispanic Initiatives will host another panel discussion at the Feliciano School of Business: Driving Prosperity, Power and Progress in America.

Montclair supports Latino students through its summer Hispanic Student College Institute and helps students with research opportunities to advance their academic careers through programs such as the American Heart Association’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions Scholars Program.

More recently, President Jonathan Koppell joined the Presidents for Latino Student Success network, which is part of Excelencia in Education, the nation’s premier authority in efforts to accelerate Latino student success in higher education. Gonzales has been named Lead Affiliate for the institutional team and committed to support the University’s engagement with Excelencia in Education. Goldfarb and Vice President for Student Development and Campus Life Dawn Meza Soufleris, have been named Additional Affiliates for network opportunities.

For more events, visit the Hispanic Heritage Month Events Calendar.


Story by Staff Writer Sylvia A. Martinez. Photos by University Photographer Mike

Peters and John J. LaRosa.

You may also like: