TWIN FALLS — The College of Southern Idaho became Idaho’s first Hispanic Serving Institution this year, a designation for schools where at least 25% of the student body identifies as Hispanic.
It’s a title that brings more grant opportunities to the school — and an opportunity to focus more intently on serving its Hispanic students. The college has a week-long celebration planned starting on Oct. 4, where CSI students and faculty will recognize the history and culture of Hispanic Idahoans, and discuss the ways CSI can better serve Hispanic students and other diverse communities.
“Using this as a springboard, and not as a milestone, is really important,” said Michelle Schutt, Vice President of CSI’s student services.
Idaho’s Hispanic population grew 30%, in the last decade, according to the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, more than double the rate of non-Hispanic growth. Hispanic enrollment at CSI mirrored that trend, rising from the mid-teens to more than 25% of the school’s population in less than a decade.
Hispanic youth make up more than half of the enrollment at surrounding school districts like Jerome and Shoshone, and nearly 20% of enrollment statewide. In the last 10 years, the college has started to pay more attention to its efforts to recruit and support students from the Hispanic community, said Chris Bragg, CSI’s dean of Institutional Effectiveness. The school has added a Hispanic community liaison, worked to better involve Hispanic families in recruitment efforts and begun to evaluate whether campus pedagogy — or teaching methods — are culturally inclusive.
“We have a lot of things we’ve been doing in pockets,” Bragg said. “I think what we’re excited about next week is getting more strategic about pulling some of those (efforts) together.”
CSI celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, and it’s new designation, on Monday with a presentation on the history of Hispanics and Latinos in Idaho, a student panel moderated by Sami Edge of Idaho Education News, and a panel discussion of presidents from other Hispanic Serving Institutions. Festivities continue throughout the week with book discussions about literature from Hispanic authors, and presentations from Dr. Gina Garcia, a leading scholar on Hispanic Serving Institutions.
The college also plans to apply for grants available to Hispanic Serving Institutions for things like expanding STEM opportunities for Hispanic and low-income students.
Luiz Juarez, a CSI engineering student who grew up in Oakley, says he appreciates’ CSI’s focus on creating a more inclusive campus, including a student diversity council that hosts educational events. As a Hispanic student, Juarez said he’d like to see more diversity among faculty members; professors who students would feel comfortable asking life-questions, in addition to academic ones.
“Having a more diverse faculty and staff makes it so students feel more safe and accepted,” Juarez said.
CSI’s hiring managers are invited to attend a discussion with Garcia this week around recruiting and supporting diverse staff members, Schutt said. The school is also hosting a faculty summit on student performance data, to help professors evaluate if certain student populations are falling behind their peers, and learn how to help.
“If we’re not responsive (to Hispanic students), we’re neglecting our responsibility to help educate a significant portion of our population,” Schutt said. “And if we’re going to be responsive, we should be proud of how we’re celebrating this population of our students.”