Kristine Jan Cruz Espinoza is a first-generation student pursuing a doctoral degree in higher education and a member of the Minority-Serving Institution Student Council (MSISC). Espinoza, who is also completing a graduate certificate in program evaluation and assessment, leads the university’s “Count Us In” effort to disaggregate student data, or break it down into smaller subgroups of race and ethnicity to better understand student performance.
She also is the lead author with Associate Vice President of Student Life Renee Watson of “In the Hands of Students: The Charge of a Minority-Serving Institution Student Council at a Dual-Designated Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution and Hispanic-Serving Institution” published in the AAPI Nexus journal special issue titled, “Models of Change: AANAPISIs in Action.” The piece focuses on the MSI Student Council and how its initiatives promote success for minoritized students. It describes the creation of the council, highlights activities and initiatives from its first year, and offers as model for other institutions to create similar student-centered committees and task forces.
What are some of the identities you hold?
I hold many firsts: I am the first in my mixed-immigration-status family to be born in the U.S., a first-generation U.S. college student, and first in my family to pursue a doctoral degree. I honor the lineage of strong Pinays who dreamed and pushed onward in the face of challenge in order for me to have an opportunity to be here. I grew up in Carson, nestled in the south bay of Los Angeles County.
What does it mean to you that UNLV is a Minority-Serving Institution?
Minority-Serving Institution (MSI) designations such as Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI) and Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), are federal signifiers that UNLV has a racially diverse student population, particularly with its Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and Latinx/e students.
Enrolling racially diverse students cannot be where we stop. Instead, MSI designations are a call to action for UNLV to critically reflect on what it is doing and what more it could do to address racial equity and justice for racially minoritized students as well as other minoritized students, faculty, and staff.
Why did you choose to join the MSISC?
As a proud alum of different MSIs and budding scholar interested in MSIs, I am motivated to be part of meaningful change and inspire more investment in what MSIs can do.
What is the project that you started through the MSISC?
Count Us In: Ethnicity Data Disaggregation — this initiative advocates for the university’s adoption of ethnicity data disaggregation, specifically the collection of ethnic subgroup options beyond the larger racialized categories.
This initiative is rooted in racial justice and equity. For the title of my initiative, I drew inspiration from the “Count Me In” initiative led by student advocates in the University of California (UC) system. In 2007, the UC system made a systemwide administrative revision to its collection of Asian and Pacific Islander ethnic subgroups.
Why is this project important?
Things are missed in the aggregate. Broadly, data disaggregation of racialized categories has been a social justice issue for communities of color. Adopting data disaggregation in the undergraduate and graduate applications shows an investment in improving UNLV’s capacity to recognize and pay attention to the vast heterogeneity of Asian American, Black, Latinx/e, Native American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander students.
Better data collection helps cultivate a culture of evidence and can help campus leaders create targeted programs and services.
What made you select this particular project?
I gravitate to sustainable and systemic change. Advocating for the university’s adoption of collecting ethnic subgroup data will help further UNLV’s ability to serve its growing racially minoritized student population.
Where else is data disaggregation being done?
Prior to entering UNLV, I was a community college transfer student from Long Beach City College (a dual-eligible AANAPISI and HSI) to the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (a dual AANAPISI and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institution). I worked for almost four years as a student affairs officer in an ethnic studies department at UCLA.
In the University of California system and University of Hawai‘i system, disaggregated ethnic subgroup data was being collected. States like Washington, for example, collect disaggregated Asian American data at the state level on 21 different ethnic subgroups.
What have you learned about UNLV through serving on the MSISC?
UNLV is leaning into its MSI statuses, and I want to give credit where credit is due. The university has invested in the MSI Student Council. UNLV is giving students the opportunity to advocate for changes not already being worked on and to bolster efforts we find in need of investment. This is an exemplary way forward.
How can faculty, staff, and students learn more about your project?
I would love to talk to more people about Count Us In! If you are just getting started and want to ease in, I made guest appearances on Nevada NPR’s (KNPR) Exit Spring Mountain and Native Nevada (I’m around the 25:25 mark) talking about subgroup data disaggregation.
What else are you involved in?
I work as a graduate research assistant for the Culturally Relevant and Responsive Teaching Fellows Program, one of three efforts as part of TRANSCEnD and funded by a National Science Foundation Improving Undergraduate STEM Education HSI grant.
This spring, I am the graduate teaching assistant in EDH 714: Understanding Minority-Serving Institutions, under the helm of (professor) Blanca Rincón. I am on a number of other research projects, all related to MSIs, racial formation, and racially minoritized student advocacy efforts.
Finally, fun fact: I am one of two students serving on the National AANAPISI Steering Committee along with university leaders across the U.S. and U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands.
When it is time for you to leave UNLV, what do you want your legacy to be?
I want my legacy to look like structural and systemic change that survives beyond my time at UNLV, particularly a change in how racialized data is collected and used at the university. I see this initiative as not an end in itself, but a way to propel the university forward.