César E. Chávez Institute
College of Ethnic Studies
San Francisco State University
Latina/o Students in Higher Education:
Identifying critical issues and new possibilities at Bay Area universities

A content-packed Agenda, stellar lineup.


On February 27, 2015, the César E. Chávez Institute's Latino Educational Achievement Partnership (LEAP) hosted Latino/a Students in Higher Education: Identifying Critical Issues and New Possibilities at Bay Area Universities - a day of community dialogue, information sharing, and coalescing on the many factors that help or hinder Latina/o students from attaining their educational goals. 


Over 300 educators, students and administrators from the SF State community, Bay Area colleges, universities and high schools, community activists, and non-profit organizations committed to getting Latino/a youth into, and successfully through college attended.


Estela Bensimon
In the morning, Estela Mara Bensimon, Co-Director of the Center for Urban Education at the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, spoke about "equity mindedness" in academic institutions, highlighting how inequality in higher education is a problem of institutional practices, structures, and policies. Ms. Bensimon discussed the importance of being intentional about equity, and presented strategies for advancing equity on our campuses. 


Belinda Reyes

Mid-morning, Dr. Belinda Reyes, Director of the César E. Chávez Institute and LEAP, presented "Latino/a Student Outcomes: a Case Study at SF State", an overview of the research conducted by LEAP during the past two years, focusing on access, faculty diversity, road-blocks to college affordability, campus climate, and engagement for Latino/a students at San Francisco State. (View the powerpoint presentation.)

In the afternoon, Dr. Aida Hurtado, professor at the Department of Chicana/Chicano studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, spoke passionately about the marginalization and criminalization of young Latino males. Aida's

Aida Hurtado 
presentation focused on systemic barriers and social pressures that oppress young Latino males, especially around issues of masculinity, and the struggles and successes they experience as they navigate the halls of higher education.   


Dr. Marcos Pizarro,  professor and Chair of the Mexican American Studies Department  at San José State, engaged the crowd in a discussion about the assets Latino students bring to the classroom, how to engage them, and the impact of discrimination, stereotypes and microaggressions on their academic performance.  


Marco Pizarro 


Additionally, attendees were given the opportunity to hear directly from four Latina/o current or former SF State student leaders.


Verónica García, a recent graduate and proud single mother who hopes one day to be the president of a community college, spoke of gaining self-esteem and experience as a community organizer through her time at the Latina and Latino Studies Department at SF State - .



Jessica Iniguez, a senior in marketing and vice president of IDEAS, the undocumented student support group on campus, spoke about her campaign to increase the visibility and awareness of undocumented student issues on campus. Posters from the  This Is What Dreamers Are Made Of campaign were on display throughout the day.


Yosimar Reyes a creative writing major and a nationally recognized poet, educator, performance artist, and public speaker, brought down the house with his spoken word pieces addressing Latino identity and his community, and the resilience each has brought him. 


The last student speaker was Angel Ku, a recent graduate who is now pursuing his PhD in pharmacogenomics at UCSF.  Angel spoke about his educational journey as a Latino student at the undergraduate and graduate level. Apart from excelling in his studies, Angel also pursued his passion for advocacy and science by co-founding Pre-Health Dreamers, a national network of undocumented students seeking to pursue advanced professional degrees in the medical and scientific fields. 



Participants rolled up their sleeves.
Working groups in session.
Informed and inspired by the speakers, the audience was ready to roll up their sleeves to brainstorm about what we can do as a community to improve outcomes for Latino students. Twenty-four groups of 8 to 12 people spread throughout the large event facility, each group generating two critical issues and strategies to address them.  The discussions were so lively and engaging, that participants wanted more opportunities to strategize. 


Each group was self-directed. 
Responses from all of the groups were collected and sorted, and at the end of the day we asked the audience to vote on what they saw as the most important issues from all those discussed. The audience voted on line, using their cell phones, and we determined instantly the following policy suggestions:


Maintaining access

Provide peer mentors. Counselors are stretched to the limit and students are not getting the support they need. Peer mentoring for students and parents could provide support in a culturally relevant way.


Direct outreach to community and families.  Provide early college awareness within the community (i.e., at churches, parks, community events, community organizations).


Bilingual/Bicultural materials, events and personnel. Translate online and in-print materials; provide translators at events; and diversify faculty, staff and administration.


Ensuring college affordability

Cross training among admissions, financial aid and faculty.  Better interconnection and information sharing. Embed process into the classroom.   


Financial literacy. Help students and families with financial literacy and strategies to stay in college. For example, running financial literary workshops for students and parents at community organizations. 


Free/affordable higher education. Develop strategies that make college affordable. For example:

  • Working with local transportation agencies to develop a discounted or free pass for students in the greater Bay Area. 
  • Develop subsidies like section 8 on campus housing for low-income students.
  • Put scholarship forward and provide more professional development and support with applications.
Each group generated extensive ideas.

A relevant educational experience and campus climate

Creating safe zones. Create social and physical spaces for students to get information, connect to services, develop civic engagement, gain professional skills and share with peer, mentors and staff.


Increasing capacity to provide "next step" services that connect students to services - e.g., establish a "Welcome Center" that provides information about what is available. Create a buddy system for peer support that include faculty and staff.


Provide professional development training for staff, faculty and students around diversity and multicultural issues, and develop follow-up procedures.  


Work with faculty on curricula and policy changes.

Make sure curricula include Latino voices and perspectives. Make the faculty more aware of the issues confronting Latino students, examining department data on attrition, graduation, GPA, etc., and discuss at faculty meetings to build critical mass of support. Examine the classroom (i.e., syllabus, prerequisites, impaction, assignments, and pedagogical practices). 


Provide more opportunities to experience Latino culture on campus. Develop events and lecture series. Diversify faculty, staff and administration.


Engage families and communities

Help families earlier. Provide support with the application process, including financial aid, and provide information about resources available in their communities. Demystify the processes, promote self-advocacy. A third of Latino families are not on the internet  


Respond to families' needs - e.g., provide childcare and food in order for them to be able to participate in sessions. 


Create spaces for family on campus. An orientation targeting Latino students and families with the purpose of making students feel welcome, giving families and opportunity to get crucial information, and involving the family in the campus community. Have multilingual and culturally competent staff, peers and mentors available.  


More in-person than internet outreach. Engage with people and personalize support. Understanding the students' and families' needs builds trust.


At LEAP we will work to clarifying these priorities, identifying people and organizations that need to be engaged and soliciting further feedback.


Are you interested in helping us formulate a common agenda for Latinos in higher education in the Bay Area?  


Would you want to be a part of events, or take action at your own place of work?


Give us your feedback, and answer a few questions.




What's next?

At LEAP we are working to:


  • hold events to continue to engage and inform;
  • establish mechanisms to share experiences, best practices, and ideas;
  • work with other universities, community organizations, and foundations on expanding data analysis and accountability throughout the Bay Area.
Support LEAP's work. 

The César E. Chávez Institute    *   College of Ethnic Studies    *   San Francisco State University