The number of Hispanic students attending Sonoma State University is on the rise, and a group of 20 faculty and staff members at Sonoma State have formed the SSU Alianza for Equity to address issues impacting these students.
"This rising Latino and Latina enrollment brings forth complex issues that need to be proactively addressed in order to ensure the successful recruitment, retention and graduation of these students," says Daniel Malpica, chair of the Chicano and Latino Studies Department and chair of Alianza's Mesa Directiva (Board of Advisors).
In 2015, the student population was 21 percent Hispanic; in 2016, that number climbed to 27.6 percent. In contrast to the student population, only 6.4 percent of Sonoma State faculty identify as Hispanic. Part of Alianza for Equity's goal is to bring the percentage of Hispanic faculty and students into alignment.
"Having staff and faculty that understands their culture and language increases the chances that Hispanic students will feel connected and stay through graduation," says Elisa Velasquez, chair of the Psychology Department and treasurer of the group. "It's important for White students too. Having more diversity makes you more comfortable around different types of people."
The initial goals of Alianza for Equity include:
• Collaborating with the University president and local junior college presidents to develop policies that will advance the retention and graduation of Hispanic students
• Creation and management of a DREAM Center on campus for undocumented students
• Support the recruitment, hiring and promotion of more Latino/a faculty
• Collaborate with surrounding junior colleges and school districts to identify best transitional practices for students
To meet the federal definition of a Hispanic Serving Institution, at least 25 percent of the university's student population must identify as Hispanic and 50 percent must be eligible for federal financial aid. Right now, only 31 percent of Sonoma State students qualify for federal student aid, says Sean Johnson, director of records, reporting and analytics.
"When we reach 50 percent, we will automatically be granted Hispanic Serving Institution status -- that will come directly out of our federal reporting," says Johnson. "From there, the university will be able to apply for a Title V grant."
Title V grants are awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to improve and expand educational opportunities for Hispanic and low-income students. The grants focus on academic development, program quality and institutional stability.