Texas A&M University kicked off National Hispanic Month in grand style. Felipe Hinojosa, associate professor of history and Latina/o studies at Texas A&M, began his new role as director of the Carlos H. Cantu Hispanic Education and Opportunity Endowment on Sept. 15.
“Our challenge today, and one that I believe the Cantu Endowment Fund can partner in addressing, is to devote continued attention to the educational achievement gaps that persist between white students and students of color, particularly Latina/o students,” Hinojosa said. “I plan to do everything in my power to ensure that the Cantu Endowment Fund is a central player in our research, in our aspirations to become a Hispanic Serving Institution, and in helping to connect transformational learning initiatives with a sound interdisciplinary research agenda.”
At Texas A&M, the Latina/o graduation rate is approximately 72 percent, which is higher than the national average, but 10 percentage points lower than the rate for white students at the university. The Cantu Endowment Fund is positioned to lead and partner with existing organizations and departments across campus to improve the graduation and retention rates of Latina/o students, Hinojosa said.
Since its inception in 1999, the Cantu Endowment Fund has brought researchers, community leaders and educators together to address Latina/o education in the state and nation. Over the years, the endowment has organized conferences, lecture series and research projects focused on exploring high school dropout rates, educational attainment, demographics and retention rates.
Hinojosa intends to build on existing programs and continue developing pilot projects that research, evaluate and initiate successful Latina/o programs, and state and federal legislative policy initiatives based on research findings.
“I am pleased to see that Felipe Hinojosa has been named the new director of the Carlos Cantu Endowment,” Ken Meier, Cantu Endowment Fund former director and University Distinguished Professor of political science, said. “Dr. Hinojosa is a first-rate scholar of Latinx history who has made strong contributions to Cantu programs in the past, and I look forward to his leadership as Texas A&M continues to increase its Latinx student populations.”
Hinojosa’s three central goals:
Transformational learning, interdisciplinary research, collaboration
Across campus, bridge important units, such as the Latina/o and Mexican American Studies (LMAS) program, Interdisciplinary Critical Studies, STEM fields, the history department’s Chicano/Latina/o faculty cluster, Aggie Agora and other diversity initiatives, and the Latino/a Community and Advocacy Association (LCAA) and other student groups.
Raising the research profile in Latino/a studies
Bridging these conversations across campus positions the Cantu Endowment Fund within a collaborative research and teaching space that not only works to identify the challenges that plague Latino/a students, and other students of color, but also seeks to provide innovative responses to those challenges. Doing so not only increases the endowment fund’s research profile but also increases its standing as a national and global leader in Latina/o politics and education.
Reaching Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) status
The Texas A&M Latina/o student population now hovers around 21 percent overall, and among incoming freshman, that population is slightly more than 25 percent. This suggests that the university is on its way to becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution (HIS), which requires 25 percent total Latino/a enrollment.
Through the LMAS program, students already are studying and addressing issues involving race, socio-economic inequality, demographic shifts, immigration policies, the U.S./Mexico border, affordable housing and public health.
This matters because demographics across the state and nation are rapidly changing, he said. Since 2010, Texas has gained three times as many Latina/o residents as white residents. Even as California continues to have the largest Latina/o population, Texas leads all other states in Latina/o population growth.
Hinojosa believes the Cantu Endowment Fund must examine the ways in which a racially and ethnically diverse demographic will fundamentally change public education across Texas and the nation.
“Clearly that transformation has already begun, and those changes have become visible on our own campus, but demography is not destiny,” Hinojosa said. “In other words, the growing numbers of Latina/o students on our campus and across the state will not automatically translate into political power, representation or improved graduation rates.”
Of the accomplishments achieved over the past 16 years, Meier is most proud of the Latinx Policy Lecture Series that has attracted nationally recognized scholars and showcased Texas A&M research on Latinx issues; the research support provided 12 minority doctoral students, many who currently serve on the faculties of other major universities; and the support of scholarship for more than 35 Texas A&M students who have since advanced to graduate and professional schools.
The Carlos H. Cantu Hispanic Education and Opportunity Endowment is the result of a generous gift given to the university by Carlos Cantu ’55 and his family.