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Q&A: Director Elizabeth Gonzalez discusses UCLA’s ‘ambitious yet attainable’ HSI goal

Elizabeth Gonzalez (pictured) was appointed as the inaugural Hispanic-Serving Institution director by the chancellor’s office in June. (Courtesy of Alberto Moreno)

By Alexandra Kaiser

Oct. 19, 2022 12:08 a.m.

UCLA’s inaugural Hispanic-Serving Institution Director Elizabeth Gonzalez sat down with the Daily Bruin to discuss her qualifications, the university’s goal, her priorities as the HSI director and recommendations from the Hispanic-Serving Institution Task Force.

The chancellor’s office appointed Elizabeth Gonzalez as the HSI director in June. To meet UCLA’s current goal to become a Hispanic-Serving Institution by 2025, 25% of the university’s students must identify as Latino, according to the Department of Education.

This interview between Gonzalez and the Daily Bruin’s Alexandra Kaiser has been edited for length and clarity.

Daily Bruin: What is your background in this area, and what does this new position entail?

Elizabeth Gonzalez: I’m Dr. Elizabeth Gonzalez. I’m a proud alumni of UCLA. I attended as an undergraduate and majored in psychology as well as education studies. And I’m back to lead UCLA in this ambitious yet attainable goal of becoming an HSI, and my role really is to bring the campus together because this is a campuswide effort, and at an institution like UCLA, you really need somebody to unify the campus, build bridges, engage all our constituents. And so I think it’s appropriate also that this position is in the Office of the Chancellor to be able to bring all of the campus units together and also to show the serious commitment that UCLA has made towards this school. I’m back to UCLA, and I’m excited to be doing this work in particular.

As you know, for the past few years, the UC system has said we want all our campuses to become an HSI, and this is part of President (Michael) Drake’s priorities of access and opportunity. And UCLA had made that commitment two years ago to put a task force together to examine the current state of Latino students and then make concrete recommendations. The report is extremely comprehensive. I don’t know of another report that gives us the level of detail as to the access, retention and graduation of Latino students at UCLA, and so I think that is an achievement in itself.

My immediate goal is to develop an understanding of what HSI status means because coming in, I realized that most people know very little about what this designation means. And I plan on building that understanding through forums. We’ve had one forum with students in the spring when the report had just been published. It was a small group of students, key leaders and key organizations to debrief them on that report. Then we continued with staff this summer to debrief them on the report to start to gain that understanding of HSI status. And then we have our visioning forum next week. Again, that will engage, in particular, faculty and staff in this effort because we need to have a shared understanding and also provide opportunities for the campus to be part of the shaping of our identity as an HSI. And if we don’t have that in place, we run the risk of siloing this work. And like I said, this work is about institutional transformation, so it really has to include all aspects of the campus, from our high school partners to our alumni to external affairs. So that’s my immediate priority: to activate and engage the campus. Second is to turn to those seven recommendations from the report that span anywhere from enrollment and financial aid to scholarships and then to post-graduation. It’s so extensive that now, we really need a much smaller implementation committee to turn those recommendations into actionable strategies with targeted outcomes.

DB: Los Angeles’ Hispanic population accounts for nearly 50% of the county, yet only 21% of the UCLA campus identifies as Hispanic or Latino. What accounts for this difference?

EG: I think that’s a question that a lot of people have on their mind, and I want to just remind people of the limitations that we face at the state policy level that doesn’t allow us to consider gender or race in the admissions process. But under those constraints, UCLA has made great efforts and serious efforts to continue to fulfill its mission as a public institution. But there’s a lot more that we can do even within those constraints by the state policy, and that’s what the HSI efforts are. How can we do more work? We’re looking at ways to push ourselves even further within those constraints.

DB: The Hispanic-Serving Institution Task Force just published a series of recommendations to achieve this goal, including creating a Latinx Student Resource Center. What resources would this center provide, and what does the timeline for this center look like?

EG: I spoke with Vice Chancellor Monroe Gorden about developing a vision for this Latino resource center that is sustainable and innovative. He provided me with an update: His team has already started meeting with students to identify the key resources that are needed from the student perspective. So I know that the recommendations in the HSI report came from the conversations that one of the faculty had with focus groups with students, and so that recommendation surfaced from those conversations. But the Office of Student Affairs wants to continue to have that conversation with students about what exactly would be provided in that center based on what students need. Vice Chancellor Monroe Gorden mentioned to me that it has to be not just a student affairs resource center but a UCLA resource center for Latino students. So including the academic side of the house as much as we include the student affairs side of the house, so anywhere from tutoring, to wraparound basic needs support. We’re in the stage of developing what exactly students need in that center.

DB: The current UCLA goal is to become a Hispanic-Serving Institution by 2025. How realistic is this goal? What does the university need to do to meet this goal?

EG: It is an ambitious but also attainable goal, and that’s the importance of the implementation committee. We need to develop a strategic plan with very focused strategies that are going to move the needle. UCLA is a huge institution, so you have to be very concerted and focused on what those strategies are going to be. They need to be bold, they need to be ambitious, but they need to be focused and sustainable. Most people are asking if the university is going to get to HSI status by 2025, and that’s the ambitious part. But to me, I think the ambitious part of it is creating something that is sustainable long term in terms of enrolling Latino students but also graduating them. We’ve seen on some campuses that just because you reach designation, doesn’t mean you sustain that designation. And so we really have to be strategic about our strategies. Those strategies need to be focused on outreach. It needs to be focused on providing financial scholarships and support and wraparound services. So it’s not just about bringing them here and enrolling them, but once they’re here, how are we providing that wraparound support and giving them an experience where they leave proud of having been UCLA alumni and feeling like they were served? To answer your question, the strategies that we develop have to be ambitious, focused, but most importantly, sustainable.

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Alexandra Kaiser | Campus politics editor
Kaiser is the 2022-2023 campus politics editor. She was previously a News reporter and Opinion columnist. She is also a third-year communication and political science student.
Kaiser is the 2022-2023 campus politics editor. She was previously a News reporter and Opinion columnist. She is also a third-year communication and political science student.
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