Cal Poly Humboldt: Championing Diversity and Excellence in Hispanic Serving Institutions

Administration November 2023 PREMIUM

 Cal Poly Humbolt, as a Hispanic Serving Institution, stands out as a trailblazer in higher education by making extraordinary efforts to support Hispanic/Latino students and advance diversity and equity on its campus. 

In the evolving academic landscape, colleges and universities across the United States are striving not only to be inclusive but also transformative. Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSl) play a critical role in this transformation, fostering educational opportunities for Hispanic/Latinx students and promoting diversity and equity on campuses nationwide. Cal Poly Humboldt strives to exemplify student academic achievement through an unwavering commitment by embracing our HSI identity.

Northern California’s first polytechnic institution, Cal Poly Humboldt, stands as a shining example of a university that has made remarkable strides in supporting Hispanic/Latine students. As we delve into the many extraordinary efforts undertaken by Humboldt, it becomes evident that our university is not merely a place of learning but a nurturing ground for dreams and aspirations. We do this with our institution’s commitment to a culture of transformative teaching, research, creative activity, and service, rooted in social justice and racial equity principles through many varied initiatives, including those highlighted below.

To begin with, “El Centro Académico Cultural de Humboldt” (aka El Centro) focuses on the lived experience of students of Latin American descent in navigating pathways to success that honor and respect their cultural and historical trajectory. El Centro is committed to student success with a responsive approach that seeks the development of academic, intellectual, personal, and professional growth.  It achieves this by functioning as a resource where students can explore and express shared values, differing experiences, distinct histories, and multi-dimensional identities to foster powerful individuals and communities. It strives to provide hospitality and genuine love and support. With this purpose in mind, El Centro works to empower Latinx students at Cal Poly Humboldt on their academic journeys through an Academic Advisor housed within the center that understands the diverse cultural backgrounds and life experiences that shape our latine students’ education. With a profound understanding of shared values, El Centro offers comprehensive guidance and culturally responsive support that cultivates trust and connections among students, staff, and faculty.

Courageous Cuentos: A Journal of Counternarratives is one of Cal Poly Humboldt's academic initiatives that honor Hispanic/Latinx heritage. This journal celebrates the rich cultural tapestry of Hispanic/Latinx communities through storytelling and poetry that promote cultural awareness and appreciation.

The journal, published annually by the Department of Critical Race, Gender & Sexuality Studies (CRGS), features creative writing works by students. Currently, the works published in the journal are from students in the Ethnic Studies 107: Chican@/Latin@ Lives class. However, the scope of the journal has expanded to include counter narratives from students in other CRGS courses, as well as submissions from local high school students, making this project an example of the campus and community collaboration that is embedded within our institution's HSI designation.

In addition to written works, the journal embraces a shared indigenous heritage, thus honoring a common element that unites the varied and diverse communities encompassed by the Latinx nomenclature. It does this by showcasing hieroglyph artwork (created by student Michael Tjoelker) on its cover. These glyphs draw inspiration from the Nahuatl hieroglyphs used by the Aztecs in the Mesoamerican civilization, signifying the importance of speech and community dialogue.

Just as Courageous Cuentos engages in journalistic craft, so does El Leñador, a student-run, bilingual English/Spanish newspaper serving as a critical source of information for the Latino community on campus and in Humboldt County. Founded by Journalism students in 2013, the monthly newspaper has since received numerous awards, including the best non-weekly student newspaper in the state by the California College Media Association. Through their reporting, student staff members create more social, political, and cultural diversity in local media. The staff works as writers, photographers, editors, copy translators, and page designers. Students do not need to speak Spanish to participate.

Humboldt’s commitment to its community extends to unique academic programs that prepare them for the workforce. The "La Comida Nos Une" (Food Unites Us) project addresses critical issues in food systems, seeking sustainable solutions to food insecurity and agricultural challenges. Hispanic/Latinx students involved in this project gain valuable hands-on experience to help prepare them for careers related to food, agriculture, natural resources, and human sciences. 

Next year’s Annual International Latino Film Festival will be the 25th consecutive celebration of this institutional tradition, serving as a key university event that supports self-identified Latine students. The event is a collaboration between Cal Poly Humboldt and the College of the Redwoods. It is free and open to students and the public, and donations are encouraged. 

Critical scholarly engagement continues with other initiatives on campus such as “The Promotorx Critical Scholars Program”, which empowers students to excel academically by providing mentorship, financial aid, and a robust support network. This initiative shapes future leaders in the process, exemplifying the university’s dedication to supporting Hispanic/Latinx students.

For incoming freshmen, the transition to college life can be daunting. Humboldt’s “Creando Raices” is a place-based learning community. Open to specific majors, place-based learning communities explore a specific theme through multidisciplinary courses. Creando Raices, which explores community organizing, education, and Ethnic Studies, as well as other learning communities are also designed to foster a sense of belonging among incoming students through academic support, mentorship, and a supportive environment.

Hoping to meet the challenge of diversifying the STEM professions, the program ¡Échale Ganas! & Camino al Rancho empowers Hispanic/Latinx students to explore careers in environmental and STEM fields, breaking down barriers and forging new paths in natural resource sciences, and help students obtain extra-curricular experiential learning opportunities to advance their careers. This work aims to engage natural resource students at the nexus of agriculture and natural resource conservation. We have a particular emphasis on aquaculture, wildlife on farms, and rangeland conservation.

In addition, the "Ciencias Para Todos" (Science for Everyone) project makes STEM education accessible to all, including monolingual Spanish-speaking K-12 students, thereby making science more approachable for underrepresented students from a very young age. By engaging with the local community and providing resources on STEM topics, this initiative educates and inspires future scientists and engineers.

Recently, through the help, support, and mentoring of various academic departments at Cal Poly Humboldt, “Ciencias para todos,” produced a children’s book for monolingual Spanish speakers. The book is full of information rooted in scientific principles. That allows students to begin exploring their world and makes a pathway to a STEM profession more attainable by nurturing that vision.

In conclusion, Cal Poly Humboldt serves as a symbol of excellence and inclusivity among Hispanic Serving Institutions. Its unwavering commitment to Hispanic/Latinx students, demonstrated through various initiatives, strives to set a standard for higher education institutions working to create a more equitable and diverse academic landscape. In a world where diversity and inclusivity are more important than ever, Humboldt is not just following the path; it is blazing a trail, demonstrating that with unwavering dedication and purpose, we can indeed build a brighter future for all.

About the Author:

Fernando Paz is a Cal Poly Humboldt graduate with a BA in History and Ethnic Studies (2008). He currently serves as the Campus and Community Development Coordinator for the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and has previously coordinated El Centro Académico Cultural at the university.


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