June 13, 2022

Diversity gives UNLV advantages in campus culture, chase for funding

The Las Vegas Sun

For senior Merci Silva-Acosta, a Spanish linguistics and literature major, life at UNLV has been good since she transferred in 2020.

“I have been able to network with so many people and get into so many programs and meet with professors in person, and it has just been wonderful,” Silva-Acosta said.

Her advisement experience and the support she has received at UNLV have been a large part of that. Despite not having an adviser when she first began, Silva-Acosta — who wants to become a professor in Latin American studies — was paired with academic adviser Michael Terry, who has since helped her navigate coursework at UNLV.

Silva-Acosta also got to familiarize herself with what life as a graduate student will look like for her, thanks to a special graduate-level program at the university.

Through programs like these, the growing population of Hispanic and Latino students at UNLV is finding more options for academic support.

UNLV was named a Hispanic-Serving Institution in 2015. To achieve this designation, a university must be “an eligible institution and (have) an enrollment of undergraduate full-time equivalent students that is at least 25% Hispanic students” at the time of application.

These institutions, once certified by the U.S. Department of Education, can compete for grants to fund campus efforts that support Hispanic and Latino-identifying students and staff.

As of 2020, nearly 30% of UNLV’s student population identified as Hispanic, and U.S. News & World Report named it the second most diverse college campus for undergraduates. This was reason enough for the university to help form the Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Research Universities, a coalition of 20 Hispanic-Serving Institutions that fall within the top 5% of research universities. UNLV joins other schools, including the University of California, University of Texas and University of Arizona.

“Finding solutions to today’s increasingly complex research challenges requires insight from diverse perspectives and diverse professionals,” UNLV President Keith Whitfield said in a statement. “To get there, we must develop initiatives that inspire students from underrepresented communities to consider careers in higher education and support them every step of the way. By working together, this alliance of powerhouse universities has the research and institutional capacity to make a real impact for current and future Hispanic students and scholars.”

The group met in early June to discuss and set two goals for 2030: to double the number of Hispanic doctoral students enrolled in these “alliance universities,” and to increase the amount of Hispanic professors by 20%. UNLV, as of fall 2021, had 181 Hispanic doctoral students and 70 full-time instructional faculty who identify as Hispanic or Latino.

There has been a “lot of work done” to achieve this, Silva-Acosta said.

“Having this amount of students that come from — not only Latinx backgrounds, but who come from the Latinx community … it’s very rewarding,” Silva-Acosta said.

Some of the work is being done with the help of cultural organizations, like the Latinx Student Alliance, of which Silva-Acosta is the secretary. The Latinx Student Alliance functions as a leadership board that helps push for “change that impacts the Latinx student community at UNLV.” Future Latinos in Medicine, Hispanic and Latinx Students in Higher Education, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and the Student Organization of Latinxs are some of the many other organizations on campus that serve Hispanic and Latino students.

Although Silva-Acosta gives credit to UNLV for working to better support its Hispanic and Latino students, she believes that “a lot of the credit goes to the students who have put all these (cultural) organizations together and made it happen.”

Laisha Diaz, a first-generation student who just finished her freshman year at UNLV, echoes Silva-Acosta’s thoughts. She is also a member of the Latinx Student Alliance and sees UNLV “reaching out and actually supporting” many of the university’s cultural organizations, but she also hopes UNLV “does a little bit more.”

The university’s support efforts for the student body and “evenly balanced” community representation has pleased Diaz so far, she said. Despite this, she still noted that the university doesn’t have any events or initiatives specific to the Hispanic or Latino community. This leaves most of the community-specific organizing to the clubs.

“I definitely think (support for Hispanic and Latinos) has grown more in, I wanna say, maybe the last 10 years,” Silva-Acosta said. “I don’t think it was always this way, and I think there’s more work to do.”

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