The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) recognizes Newman University as one of the first four-year colleges in Kansas to be a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI).
By definition, Hispanic-serving institutions are postsecondary institutions that enroll at least 25% Latino undergraduate students. But being designated an HSI goes beyond merely enrolling students with Hispanic backgrounds.
As a member of the HACU, Newman is in the process of completing its application with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) for its Hispanic-serving institution designation, which will open other funding opportunities for students. In addition to following the DOE’s process, Newman is collaborating with Excelencia in Education, an organization that provides guidance to expand beyond enrollment to intentionally serve Latino students.
“Our focus is not only to be a Hispanic-enrolling institution but more importantly to be known as a university that serves its students well, including those on our campus who represent marginalized groups, such as Hispanic, African American, Asian and Native American students,” President Kathleen S. Jagger, Ph.D., MPH said.
Because it is a private university, some may consider Newman to be a school for the elite. While the university prides itself on providing an excellent education for its students, it does so while being as inclusive as possible, ensuring that students of lower socioeconomic backgrounds as well as at-risk populations are given just as much opportunity to excel.
“Following the example of Newman’s sponsors the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, we believe a college education is a ‘life-changing pursuit’ that should be available to all,” Jagger said.
Now, with Newman being one of the first four-year universities in Kansas to qualify as a full HSI, knowing how to support students is essential.
Implementing ideas from experts
Leading speaker, professor and author Gina Ann Garcia, Ph.D., visited the Newman University campus Feb. 9 and presented “Becoming Hispanic-Serving Institutions” workshops in collaboration with Wichita State University (WSU), WSU Tech and Friends University.
Garcia’s research centers on issues of equity and justice in higher education with an emphasis on Hispanic-serving institutions, Latinx college students, and race and racism in higher education.
In her keynote speech, which was open to the public, Garcia posed the question: “What if we entered institutions, colleges and universities and felt free that the spaces allowed us to become ourselves, to lean into ourselves and be who we wanted to be at our core?”
She discussed the importance of organizational identity, serving minoritized students and providing cultural centers where representation is clear and provide a sense of belonging. She also spoke about her own experience as an undergraduate student at California State University, Northridge, a Hispanic-serving institution, where she felt empowered as a Mexican American student.
“Education can be a space of freedom, justice and liberation,” Garcia said. “Students want to see themselves. They want to feel validated. … But we have to provide that space. And it’s going to take hard work to do so and do it well.”
Assistant Professor of Spanish and Co-Director of Hispanic Initiatives Sonja Bontrager said it was an honor to welcome Garcia to campus to share her direction and expertise.
For Bontrager, making Newman an HSI “is a question of justice and inclusion, and flows through the heart of Newman University.”
“As we strive to empower students to transform society, we commit to work simultaneously and necessarily at our own institutional transformation in order to be more understanding, representative and inclusive,” Bontrager said.
In 2021, Newman applied for a Title III grant, which exists to “improve and strengthen the academic quality, institutional management and fiscal stability of eligible institutions,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.
“At the time,” said Grants Manager Victor Chavez, “the university was seeing that we were not that far away from the Hispanic-serving institution threshold.”
“We look forward to and will continue to reflect on Dr. Gina Garcia’s teaching and research as we strive to serve our community more faithfully and effectively,” Bontrager said.
In a way, the effort to become a Hispanic-serving institution mirrors that of Newman University’s origin story to serve marginalized populations.
St. Maria De Mattias founded the Adorers of the Blood of Christ (ASC) congregation in 1834 in Italy with the purpose of providing girls with an education.
Women were not permitted to receive a formal education at the time but St. Maria De Mattias taught herself to read and write, and eventually answered her calling as a religious sister. She and her ASC congregation provided schooling for young women even in the face of adversity, which opened up opportunities beyond what these young women thought possible. Today, the ASC sisters are now part of a larger international congregation with a presence in nearly every continent.
Just as the ASCs collaborate around the world to further St. Maria De Mattias’ mission, Bontrager said the work of becoming an HSI involves Newman students, staff, faculty, administrators, trustees as well as local and regional community members.
“Our HSI efforts will also shape our curriculum, policies, opportunities, awareness and deepen our understanding of our world and mission,” she said.
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