Hispanic Deans Panel and Leaning into Cultural Identity as a Strength in Leadership

Last week, the Hispanic Faculty and Student Association (HFSA) hosted a Hispanic Deans Panel with Deans Claudia Mora, Charles Martinez and Luis Zayas to discuss Latino/x leadership at the University of Texas at Austin. The conversation centered on how cultural identity is woven into their leadership and its importance while navigating higher education.

“My culture has provided me with something that is so vital and that is connection to other people,” said Dean Zayas who shared about learning connectedness as a young person as well as the importance of treating others with dignity and respect. 

During the 30-minute panel moderated by HFSA co-chair, Dr. Debra Cantu, each of the deans were asked three questions: 1) How does your culture influence your leadership 2) How are senior leaders prioritizing Latino/x student success at the university? 3) How do you support the health and well-being of faculty and staff who are supporting students?

Dean Martinez acknowledged the challenge for many Latino/x students who come from underrepresented communities or groups once they arrive on campus. “It doesn’t matter if you’re admitted if you’re from [one of these communities], going to UT Austin might as well be like going to the moon.” He stressed the importance of engaging and supporting students during their journey to UT Austin and after arrival. 

He added: “So many of [our students] see their story in me and I try to give it standing. When they see their identity in their community, we don’t have to build artifices for belonging. It’s more endemic.”

The University of Texas at Austin recently earned the prestigious Seal of Excelencia, which is granted to a small group of colleges and universities committed to accelerating Latino/x student success. 

The designation coincides with the recent announcement that Latino/x student enrollment has topped 25% for the first time ever this past fall, which qualifies UT Austin for consideration as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). In recognizing the work done during the university’s transition to a Hispanic Serving Institution, Dean Martinez posed the question: “How do we build the infrastructure to really put the ‘S’ in HSI to think about how we serve students?” 

While closing the discussion, Dean Mora shared about the importance of community in student success. “Building community is fundamental to the success of students. In our efforts to build community for our underrepresented groups, we ended up building community for all of our undergraduates. Everyone benefited, ” said Dean Mora.

For updates on the university’s transition to a HSI, you can check out the HSI Transition Committee page. Dean Martinez noted that there will be a fourth Latino/x dean joining the university this summer with the addition of Dean-designate Ramón Rivera-Servera who will lead the College of Fine Arts.