UNLV students bring varied experiences and backgrounds to campus, creating a vibrant, culturally rich community. With 67 percent of students identifying as a racial or ethnic minority, UNLV holds designations as a Title III and Title IV minority-serving institution (MSIs), Asian American and Native American, Pacific Islander-serving institution (AANAPSIs), and Hispanic-serving institution (HSIs). Plus, UNLV’s ranking among the top 3 percent of research institutions in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education highlights the strength diversity lends to innovation, creativity, and student success.
With the fall 2021 semester in full swing and the success of the inaugural Minority-Serving Institution Student Success Summit, UNLV is pleased to present the second installment in its MSI Speaker Series this month.
Edith Fernandez, Nevada State College vice president of college and community engagement, will talk about her educational journey and what minority-serving institutions mean to her in conversation with Leslie Doyle, UNLV’s director of student diversity and social justice. The talk will be livestreamed on YouTube from 11 a.m. to noon on Nov. 19.
Here, Fernandez gives us some context for the discussion.
What inspired your work on access and equity in higher education, and particularly on Latinx experiences at Hispanic-serving institutions?
While I was completing my doctorate at the University of Michigan in the early 2000s, I learned what MSIs, HSIs, and ANNAPSIs were. HSIs for example were not formally recognized by Congress until 1992. Up to that point, I had only attended and worked at predominately white institutions. I wanted to feel, see, and immerse myself at an HSI institution so that I would have my own lived experience working at an HSI instead of studying HSIs from afar.
How would you describe the difference between institutions designated MSI and HSI and other institutions that do not carry such designations?
It is important to remember that the term MSI is not defined by federal statute; however, in general, MSIs are often referred to as minority institutions that enroll a large minority population. Two examples are historically black colleges and universities and tribal colleges and universities that have a long-established history. More recently, HSIs serving a population with 25 percent or more Latinx students, and AANAPISI Institutions (2007) with enrollment of 10 percent or more of Asian American and Native Pacific Islanders were recognized. MSIs now occupy a unique place in the nation, serving primarily, but not exclusively, low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color. These institutions have highly diverse faculty and staff, enhance student learning, promote leadership skills, and provide programs of study to address deficiencies that originated at the primary and secondary level.
From your experience as an administrator working at Nevada State College, what strategies or approaches are moving the needle on students' success?
Tracking persistence patterns across all students (academic milestones), identifying gateway courses that are difficult or create barriers, constant assessment of student needs, setting measurable retention goals, tracking retention rates for specific programs, monitoring progress in a learning management system, and using financial aid targeted at retention
What is one piece of advice that you would give historically underrepresented students?
Concentrate on your strengths. It will bring a better sense of fulfillment and forward progress. Surround yourself with positive people that inspire you and challenge you to grow. Build a diverse network of friends, community contacts, and college administrators/professors. These networks will expose you to opportunities and long-term relationships with mutual benefits. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from being a daughter of immigrants is the importance of creating and sustaining a network of support. It is how we survived, figured things out, and helped each other along the way.
What do you hope campus stakeholders will learn from your presentation?
Instead of thinking students of color have an equity gap in learning outcomes; we must realize that, in fact, institutions have an equity gap in services and in instruction. Frame inequity as a problem of practice rather than a problem with students. What can we do to be ready for students? One thing we can do is focus on the community cultural wealth students bring as a way to validate them from the very beginning. We need to adopt and commit to an equity-minded assets framework by frontline practitioners, administrators, and instructional faculty.
Often, when we talk about equity and access, social justice comes into the conversation. How can MSIs and HSIs help address disparities when it comes to underserved communities and social justice?
I believe MSIs assure economic mobility for diverse communities. It is the rebuilding and reinvestment in a strong middle class that can address these disparities.
How does your research on intercultural competence, intercultural learning skills, and civic engagement on a global scale inform your work?
My work on intercultural competence taught me that conflict is a necessary part of growth. Without lived experiences that challenge your understanding of the world, that challenge you to articulate and live your values, you will have limited cultural competence. If you are not exposed to nor are able to empathize with how others view the world and live their values, you will have limited cultural competence. A defining tenant of my work is to create intercultural opportunities through civic engagement.
What do you do for fun when you are not busy improving higher education?
Thus far trying to re-establish an identity outside of my profession, my personal and professional life are completely intertwined. I am dedicated to being the best mother I can to two teenagers who bring me joy and whom I love spending quality time with. My highlight of the day is when we sit at the dinner table to eat and talk. We share stories, make jokes, listen to music and update each other on current events. Spending time with my friends alone is fun, quick out-of-town getaways are the best.