More than “just an advisor”: experiences and perceptions of student support staff at Hispanic-serving institutions of higher education

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2023-12

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Hispanic-serving institutions of higher education (HSIs) were created by the United States government in 1992 to offer special grant funding to colleges and universities that met certain demographic thresholds (S.1150 - 102nd Congress (1991-1992), 1992). Today, a diverse group of over 500 colleges and universities carry this designation, including public and private institutions, institutions with a range of religious affiliations, and institutions ranging from community colleges, to small liberal arts colleges, to Carnegie-classified R1 research universities. Many of these institutions originated as predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and took on the HSI designation as demographics changed at the institutions and in the communities they serve (Garcia, 2017). Significant research exists describing the experiences of students and faculty at these institutions (Crisp et al., 2015; Ek et al., 2010; Garcia, 2017; Gonzales, 2015; Gonzales et al., 2013; Hurtado et al., 2011; Musoba et al., 2013; Preuss et al., 2020; Venegas, 2015). This research demonstrates how students and faculty alike must operate in HSIs as white-dominated spaces. This leads to challenges with student identity and belongingness (Bazana & Mogotsi, 2017; Hurtado et al., 2011; Musoba et al., 2013; Yosso et al., 2009) and with faculty being able to pursue research and pedagogical strategies outside of white-normative practice (B.A.L., 2017; Ek et al., 2010; Gonzales et al., 2013; Gusa, 2010). Less is known about the experiences and perceptions of the staff who work directly with students, and much of what we do know focuses on how white, middle class staff members can support students whose backgrounds are different from their own (Preuss et al., 2020; Tevis & Britton, 2020; Zenner & Squire, 2020). This treatise seeks to contribute to existing knowledge of these institutions and the people who learn and work there by examining the experiences and perceptions of academic advisors, student affairs professionals, and related staff members who directly support students. Through document review and interviews, it shows how a case institution communicates its HSI identity to staff, how staff perceive their work, and how participants with different demographic backgrounds describe servingness (Garcia et al., 2019) at the case institution. This treatise paints a picture of a diverse group of staff with strong ideas about both student service and their own roles within the institution. They discuss challenges related to complex organizational systems, struggles to do meaningful work while earning low salaries, excitement about recent changes in institutional leadership, and the ways that the institution succeeds and strives as an HSI. By learning more about the contributions and voices of these colleagues, researchers and practitioners gain new knowledge about how HSI systems operate, how they can grow, and the role that staff play in ensuring that students experience opportunities to grow academically and find belonging at institutions that are federally designated to serve them.

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