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Trish Escobar and Rogelio García-Pérez

Episode 136 - Breaking Down Barriers One Bear at a Time

On this episode of Bear in Mind, Katie Nord explores UNC's new federal Hispanic Serving Institution designation. Campus partners from the César Chávez Cultural Center (CCCC) and the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative (COSI) talk about how cultural competence, representation and breaking down institutional barriers will benefit not just the Latine community, but all students at UNC.

Trish Escobar and Rogelio García-Pérez talk about what it means to be an HSI at UNC and how the resources at CCCC and COSI provide assistance to Latine students that help strengthen their community, one student at a time. (Running time 17:39).


Katie: Hi everyone. Welcome back to this week's episode of The Bear in Mind Podcast. I'm your host, Katie Nord. Let's get started. In 2024, UNC has been making huge strides to strengthen the bonds within its community. After lots of hard work, UNC has become a Hispanic Serving Institute almost a full year ahead of schedule. In total, Colorado only has 15 universities who earned the HSI designation and 11 emerging institutions. So this is a big deal. Now for students, there's a lot of questions that we want to ask. What is an HSI? How will this positively impact us students? What changes will be made for representation and inclusivity on campus? Well, joining me today, I have Patricia Escobar and Rogelio Garcia-Perez, two UNC staff members who are here to help us better understand these changes. Thank you so much for meeting with me today. First off, I'll just have you both introduce yourselves. You can tell us your name, your position here at UNC and anything else you'd like us to know.

Trish: My name is Tricia Escobar, and I am the Associate Director at the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center.

Rogelio: Buenos dias Osos. My name is Rogelio Garcia, and I am the coordinator and success coach for the COSI program. And I'm excited to be here as a guest and talk to you about what it means to be an HSI for UNC.

Katie: Perfect. How long have you guys been working at UNC?

Trish: I have been at UNC for 30 years. This is my 30th year.

Katie: That's wonderful.

Trish: I started as an administrative assistant at the Chavez Center.

Katie: Awesome. How about you, Rogelio?

Rogelio: I have been here since 2016. I've been here as a student, as a master's student, and now as a staff. I've been here for eight years, almost a decade.

Katie: That's incredible. You guys are hard workers. Since Trish is the Associate Director of the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center, what does it do around campus and what does it mean for UNC students?

Trish: Yes. So we are a student service unit within the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. At the heart of our work is the student experience. We exist to support the Latine population in their quest to attain an education. And we also have the Dreamer engagement program that comes out of the Chavez Cultural Center. And that's an ambitious goal to serve all our Latin students. But that is what fills our days. Is the one on one with students planning programs and events that will showcase our culture.

Katie: That's amazing. We were talking about this a little bit beforehand, that the Chavez Cultural Center is a really great community for students, and a really good resource for help that they may need throughout their years here.

Trish: That's correct.

Katie: Working there must be very fulfilling.

Trish: It is. It's so amazing and so rewarding that I don't consider it a job.

Katie: Oh yeah. And when you enjoy your job enough, it doesn't even feel like a job. And you get to meet so many wonderful students. That's wonderful. What does the Dreamers engagement program do?

Trish: We support students who identify as undocumented, so the population could be composed of students from Latin backgrounds, but many other ethnicities as well. It just means they don't have a working visa and or a social security number to be able to be in this country, and so that requires a different type of expertise.

Katie: Okay. Yeah. So there's a lot of internal support that you guys are able to provide to them, which is wonderful. Awesome. And then Rogelio, you work with the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative. Could you tell us a bit about that?

Rogelio: Yeah, I would love to. So the main synopsis of our program is that our mission is to close educational equity gaps that exist across higher education. And for that, that could mean that a student might be the first in their family to attend college, and they might not have the tools necessary to go throughout that journey. And it might not be well equipped to navigate that journey as well. So our program really focuses on giving those students those skills and that leadership opportunity that they might need not only to succeed here at the university, but also once they graduate. And also, we love to build community with students. So we host a number of events around campus just to make sure that students know that there is also another support system for them here at the university.

Katie: Yeah, absolutely. Going into college without having that much of a fallback with support and not knowing how to do a lot of things, having that big group of people to go and reach out a hand to is really, really nice, whether it be at COSI or with the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center, It's really important to have those people. With these people you know, you're in good hands.

Trish: Yes.

Katie: How does COSI help students access higher education?

Rogelio: Yes. So one of the highlights of our program is that we have a mentorship program within COSI, in which we partner with advisors and other tree organizations within the community to recruit incoming UNC students and make them have that first connection here to the university. I always like to think about it as it's one thing to get an email from UNC that says, hey, congratulations, you're admitted. But for people who come or students who come from our backgrounds, who are very communal, very family oriented, it's another thing to bring them on campus and say, hey, this is where you're going to be at in a couple of months. And also, we have some students here who have volunteered to be mentors, and they're going to be your guide for this next first year, because in reality, sometimes students might be a bit shy or hesitant to ask staff something they're going through, and what better way to navigate that and have them be more comfortable in talking to another student?

Katie: For sure. I think there's a lot of nerves that come. With speaking with teachers and staff because there is that a little bit of a power dynamic. But having having student stuff is really nice because it's like having a friend, you know, they can trust in them and confide in them if they have any concerns or problems. And then once they feel comfortable, they can also work up to talking to the staff and teachers and whoever they feel would support them.

Rogelio: Yeah. To go back to my earlier point about, like, students might necessarily know how to navigate, you know, being a college student in general, right? For example, this year we ran into a lot of problems with the FAFSA because it's very new, very recent, and a lot of students don't know. And so how we kind of promote higher education, continue the accessibility of it is we sit down with the students. I mean, we're very intentional that they know that they are supported here at the university and whatever their struggles might be, or questions that there's no dumb question and they can count on us.

Katie: For sure. That's really important to say. There's really no question. That's a bad question. FAFSA is confusing. First time college students. It's hard. It's really hard. But it's good to know that there are those people to lean on. Since UNC has recently become a Hispanic serving institute, could you tell us more about what an HSI is and what that does for the university?

Trish: In order to apply to become a Hispanic serving institution, Latine enrollment needs to be at least 25% and meet certain requirements. I know it's a long process and it's complicated. We always talk about the population percentages, but I know there is a lot more to it than that. The institution needs to be able to transform itself, to be able to serve the needs of Latine students, who tend to be coming from immigration status that might not have access to documents. Also, it depends on the generational differences, like it could be first, second or third generation immigrants into the United States. So some folks may already speak English and be able to be completely bilingual. Others might not. So there is a lot of support mechanisms that need to exist in an institution to be able to embrace that population.

Katie: Yeah. And then after becoming an HSI facility, does that guarantee that we get more state funds?

Rogelio: So necessarily it doesn't mean we are guaranteed more grants or federal funding. It means we can apply for that funding. And if we look solely at the funding, obviously that's a big question that people have. Oh, the HSI obviously comes with the access to apply for these funds. And yes, that's true. However, if we just focus on what, you know, money we can apply for, we miss on what we can do with that thing. Right? So with having the designation, it doesn't mean that we erase systemic issues within higher education. It does not mean that it means now that we have a shared responsibility as a campus to make it more equitable, and it should not only rely on certain pockets of excellence here that we have at UNC, but it's a shared goal with everyone to make sure that Ummc is an equitable campus for everyone. Alongside with that, not only can you invest in more in student support services, but you can also use resources such as the ones that come with HSI to make and improve the campus climate.

Katie: Becoming an HSI provides a lot of opportunities for growth for not only staff, but also for students and faculty. And I think that's amazing.

Trish: Yes. And the significance of what Rogelio was saying is that in our one on one work with students, which really it translates into that. In my mind, I think HSI means I am able to work with a student that's in front of me that has a difficulty with financial aid, let's say, and I'm able to pick up the phone and call somebody in financial aid that I know and trust, and we can join together to help this student with the situation they're in, or the registrar's office or the counseling center, really, any office on campus career services. I called career Services today, for instance, to try and help a student, the joint kind of work and effort to help each student to become successful and gain their education is the reason we are here. What I love about UNC is that we have this department, right, the Division of Equity and Inclusion that has a myriad of different other departments within it that help our students, like the experience I had the other day with a student that came into the center asking how we could help because they had a $10,000 bill and they didn't have a job because they had joined intramurals. I think it was. And that was taking all the time and not knowing how to proceed. And just this worry about how am I going to pay this bill? Well, I took him to the COSI house. They happened to be in a meeting, but Rogelio got up, met with the student. A week or so later, I found out the parents of this particular student were both veterans. So veteran services got involved and the $10,000 bill was taken care of. That is, to me, the excitement about HSI, that we are able to work collaboratively with all departments, all different cultural and resource offices, and help each other to help our students to succeed.

Katie: For sure, becoming an HSI really has provided a lot of connections between different programs and departments that we maybe would not have been able to collaborate with otherwise. So it's really nice to know that this. Is just providing more help and more accessibility for students that may not have had that help prior to us becoming an HSI. For students at UNC, whether they're Latine or other students of color, how does this impact underrepresented populations?

Rogelio: Some of the concerns that students might have that's very valid is, you know, UNC, up until recently was a PWI, so a predominantly white institution. And some of the concerns that students might have along that is like, okay, we were a PWI, now we're a Hispanic serving institution. What does that mean? You know, does that mean that only Latine students are going to be the sole focus of the university, and I'm going to be pushed to the outskirts, and I'm not going to be supported? The answer to that is no. You know, even even so, this designation can be used to hold everyone accountable, that we're creating a campus that serves all students equitably. Right. And so I just wanted to name that, you know, some students might be dealing with that or that might be a question in their head, but I wanted to assure them that does not mean we are going to push them and marginalize them even further. It's more so of like, this is another step of accountability the university can take.

Trish: Yeah, I think that raising the bar on providing quality service to students from every department at the institution will only serve the student body across all ethnicities or underrepresented status, and providing a service where I work and I have been trained on how to specifically address the needs of students who are in low socioeconomic levels or are facing mental health issues. I am able to provide that support to any student that comes to my office, and if my staff is trained, then the entire institution will benefit from my staff knowing how to deal with all kinds of different experiences that students bring with them.

Katie: Absolutely.

Rogelio: I made a good point with that, Trish, because imagine, you know, if not only like the students of the of the Chavez were equipped with those things, but now imagine that the university is equipped with that cultural competence which what you were referring to. Then that means we can, you know, make UNC a bit more welcoming place for students like that without operating within bias or making assumptions about student populations, because we've never had to interact with those students.

Trish: Exactly.

Katie: Yes. I'm excited. I'm really, really hopeful to see that our community within UNC is going to grow so much stronger and with more education and with more cultural competence overall, we're going to be able to connect so many communities of people together. It's going to be amazing.

Trish: Exactly.

Katie: For you guys personally, do you have any kind of changes you would like to see in the future in regards to representation and accessibility for students at UNC?

Rogelio: Yeah. So speaking just from personal experience, when I came here as a first year student, you know, I felt very much isolated within my major because I was the only brown student in the classroom. Right. And that wasn't up until I started taking classes from the Chicano, Chicana Latinx department and some also from the gender studies department and also the Africana Studies department. And what that did for me was amazing, right? It made me feel like I belonged, and it gave me the opportunity, which I was denied through K through 12 education, to discover who I am and ask myself, you know, what does it mean to be brown in my body at a PWI at that time? And I think what I would like to see is more funding for these departments, because if you are given the opportunity to explore who you are, learn your history accurately. That can do amazing things not only for you as a student, but when you leave this university, you're going to know who you are, and you're going to leave this institution empowered in your own identity.

Katie: Yeah, there's so many places that students can reach out and get that accessibility that they may need. There's a lot of departments and cultural centers that work around campus with students. They also have a lot of fun events that students can reach out and meet people of their community, just to name a few. There's the Marcus Garvey Cultural Center, the Asian Pacific American Student Services, the Native American Student Services, Gender Sexuality Resource Center, Veteran Services, the center for Women's and Gender Equity. There's so many places that these students can really link arms with and really just bond with people near them, and it's so exciting. What are some changes you would like to see around UNC, Trish?

Trish: So kind of along the same lines that Rogelio has mentioned, I think that we all struggle with our budgets, and if the HSI designation does bring opportunities for us to write grants, I would love to see greater numbers of students of color in Stem fields. I would love to see programs that maybe have gone away because we don't have enough funds to come back. I would love to see programs where, and I think we try to do this every semester is to join forces with other resource and cultural offices, to bring events and speakers that speak to the intersectionality of our identities. Right. So the programs could be something like a Native American speaker that is also identifying as part African American who has the experience of a first generation and is able to address issues that appeal to both communities. That would be very for us to continue to do, and definitely the writing grants for students to participate in higher, larger numbers in careers like nursing that I'm really proud of. To say I have five students right now that have been accepted into the nursing program, and that's a record number for me.

Rogelio: Mhm.

Katie: That's amazing. Yeah. Building up all of these new opportunities and creating these experiences for everyone. If we're able to write grants and create these opportunities while finally being an HSI, it would really, really make such a large impact on the campus population. And I think that's amazing. With the osteopathic medicine building coming in within the next few years, we can get a lot of students going in there, and that would create a big handful of doctors and nurses coming into Greeley and hopefully feeding through to help the community. That's amazing.

Trish: Yes, that's exciting to think about that larger numbers of first generation, low income students could access a school like the School of Osteopathic Medicine, where we can graduate doctors who are bicultural and bilingual. It's just very exciting.

Katie: Yeah, and with bilingual doctors, you're able to serve a much larger portion of the population.

Trish: Exactly.

Katie: For students who want to learn more about the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center and COSI, where can they reach out?

Trish: You can reach us at our website. I think it's www.unco.edu/cccc.

Rogelio: Yes. And if you're interested in being part of the COSI program or just interested in learning more, you can follow us on Instagram at UNC_cosi. c-o-s-i. Or you can also check out our UNC website, www.unco.edu/Colorado- Opportunity-Scholarship-Initiative.

Katie: Perfect. So with these big changes coming to UNC, we'll be seeing so many beneficial impacts to students around campus. I'm really excited to see where UNC will be in the future, but with Trish and Rogelio, I'm proud to say that any students who need help on campus, they are in good hands. For anyone who wants to learn more about the Cesar Chavez Cultural Center, you can visit www.unco.edu/cccc to find their contact information, social media pages and the address of the building. Additionally, for any more information on the Colorado Opportunity Scholarship Initiative, you can check out their Instagram at Unco_cosi, c-o-s-i, to find events on campus and program resources or you can visit www.unco.edu/Colorado-Opportunity-Scholarship-Initiative. Feel free to reach out to Rogelio and Trish with any questions you may have. Thank you again for listening to this week's episode of the Bear in Mind podcast. I'm your host, Katie Nord signing off. Bye!

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