The tidal shift of the rising Hispanic sector in the United States has been recognized as a growing area of focus in higher education. As the largest growing adolescent population, young Hispanics are making their way in droves to college campuses across the country. Many are opting out of predominately White institutions and choosing to attend Minority Serving Institutions, to include Historically Black Colleges and Universities, a segment of the higher education system that has historically focused on creating inclusionary environments from people of color.
The Department of Education found that between 1980 and 2011, total undergraduate fall enrollment for minority student enrollment increased by almost 300 percent and the Hispanic enrollment level increased by a little more than 500 percent. At HBCUs, Hispanics currently represent roughly three percent of the population; however, according to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, their enrollment at these institutions increased 124 percent over the last three decades.
In states with higher Hispanic residents, HBCUs have targeted recruitment efforts towards increasing this minority group’s presence on campus and have noted a significant increase in their Hispanic student enrollment numbers. For example, St. Philip’s College in San Antonio, initially established as a HBCU, is currently recognized as the only college to be federally designated as both a Historically Black College and a Hispanic Serving Institution.
The growing Hispanic population at HBCUs has resulted in increasing awareness towards the Hispanic student experiences on campus. The question remains whether the welcoming, inclusionary environment that HBCUs have been lauded for is experienced cross-culturally for their Hispanic counterparts. Because minimal research exists regarding this particular population at HBCUs, continued research is necessary; therefore, identifying common characteristics of Hispanic students attending HBCUs could contribute to the awareness, knowledge, and understanding for how to better serve this particular population. There are five specific characteristics that emerged from the research surrounding the Hispanic student experience at HBCUs.
High ethnic identity development.
Hispanic students who attend HBCUs tend to have high ethnic identity developments. Individuals who have high ethnic identity developments feel comfortable with their ethnic backgrounds, their histories, and the unique traditions that contribute to these ethnicities. They understand what their ethnicity means to them; it is a part of how they classify themselves on a personal, subconscious level and in the larger social context. They feel comfortable saying “I am Hispanic” and celebrating what that means with their social groups and in their larger communities.
An individual who is culturally dexterous feels comfortable in diverse settings where he or she may be the minority. Many Hispanic students who choose to attend HBCUs were raised in diverse communities and had diverse friend groups throughout their adolescence; these early experiences directly translate to their comfortability in a college environment where they have minority representation. Hispanic students at HBCUs have predominately African American friend groups in college and are typically the only Hispanic individuals in their social experiences. However, many feel that this exclusivity creates an opportunity where they can grow their cultural awareness of others from different ethnic backgrounds.
Identify with multiple Hispanic subgroup populations.
Because the term Hispanic and Latino/a are umbrella terms used to categorize a variety of Hispanic subgroup populations, many Hispanic individuals prefer to identify with their family’s country of origin- such as Dominican, Ecuadorian, Mexican, and Puerto Rican- as their main ethnic identity. Each of these subgroup populations include specific traditions, customs, and histories that are distinctive to that particular population, and grouping all individuals from these locations under Hispanic as an overarching classification creates some concerns. HBCU personnel needs to remain cognizant of these geographic and cultural differences and how they contribute to an individual’s identity, self-esteem, and inclusion on campus.
Need to share their cultural heritage.
For Hispanic students at HBCUs, sharing their unique cultural customs with their larger campus communities allows them to feel included and involved during their development college years. Celebrating their heritages allows these individuals to educate their diverse peer groups. This creates a sense of belonging for Hispanic students as they circumnavigate their roles in their predominately African American settings at HBCUs. Many Hispanic students have created their own Hispanic clubs and organizations on campus to share their culture with others, to educate their peers, and to celebrate their customs with the larger campus commuity.
Want to feel included.
College students want to feel included in their larger campus communities, regardless of their cultural or ethnic backgrounds. This is the case for Hispanic students attending HBCUs, especially because they are in settings that are predominately African American and their Hispanic identities create instances where they become conscious of their cultural differences from their peers. Many Hispanic students choose to attend HBCUs over predominately White institutions because they feel that diversity will be celebrated more in a minority serving institutional setting.
Today, HBCUs find themselves in position to increase diversity on their campuses by reaching out to the Hispanic population. Hispanic students, similar to their African American peers, have distinct needs when matriculating and successfully completing college, especially because Hispanics tend to be the most disadvantaged and least likely group to graduate. However, by understanding common characteristics associated with their increasing Hispanic student population, HBCUs can better serve these individuals to promote a positive, inclusionary college environment for all who attend these historic institutions.