Lessons from the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU)’s 34th Annual Conference

Leslie Madrigal

Due to the pandemic, everything looks different from what we are used to, including conferences. From October 26th – October 28th, I attended the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU)’s 34th Annual Conference. Their theme for this year was “Championing Hispanic Higher Education Success: Fostering Excellence and Social Justice. I attended their conference last year in Chicago, so it was definitely different this time around. Although it was in a virtual format, I am still thankful that I got to attend and meet people from across the U.S. who also attend HSI’s.

Hispanic Association

The conference started with an opening webinar session from the President of HACU. From there, we were able to choose which sessions we wanted to attend. On Monday morning, I attended “Partners in Equity: Universities, Communities, and Families Supporting College Access.” As a first-generation college student, it is important to me that every child knows that they have the capability to attend college and follow their dreams. This session focused on a university that partnered with two local schools in order to make sure that students knew what exactly a college was and how they could get prepared to one day apply. I also attended another session: “How Non-Native Speakers of English Succeed in Bachelor’s Degree Programs.” In this session, they talked about how important it is for students of all backgrounds to be included in their institutions. There is a difference between being Hispanic Enrolling and Hispanic Serving. Many institutions focus so much of their time on the enrolling title but are they really helping and serving the Hispanic students that they have in the institutions.

On Tuesday, I attended “Creating A More Socially Just Campus through Equitable Policy Implementation.” With racial inequities coming more to light during the pandemic, it is clear that college campuses also need to do their part in dismantling racial injustices within higher education. This session focused on including students and having their voices heard within higher administration, but not in a sense where they speak for every person of color. I also attended “Training Immigrant Advocates: Let’s Partner to Expand Access to Justice.” This session was probably one of my favorite ones from the whole conference. It focused on a program ran through Villanova University called VIISTA. VIISTA is an immigrant advocate program in which almost anyone can apply to as long as they are passionate about helping others. VIISTA helps people gain a certificate in which they can become registered with the Department of Justice and can attend court hearings with immigrants who otherwise may not be able to afford to have anyone else there with them. It was also great to hear that they offer a lot of scholarships to Southern California residents, or otherwise, it costs a little under $4000 to complete the program.

Wednesday was the last day of the conference, in which I attended another session that I really enjoyed titled “Significant Life Experiences and the Making of Mexican American Superintendents,” which focused on a superintendent in Texas who grew up along the Texas border. He grew up helping his father in a little shop that they owned, as well as playing for the basketball team at school. He ended up becoming the superintendent of the school district in which he attended, where his mother also sat on the school board for a number of years. I thought this was an amazing story because it shows just how much giving back means, and he accomplished it by coming back to his community. My last session of the conference was titled “HACU Advocacy: Your Voice, Your Moment,” which focused on the importance of knowing who our elected officials are, and knowing where they stand on key issues that affect us each and every day in higher education.

The conference ended with a town hall that focused on talking about the 2020 election and what each candidate had planned out for higher education. Whether we are in our undergraduate or graduate journeys, it is important to focus and keep up on where officials stand on higher education and education as a whole. Overall, I learned a lot throughout the conference, and am glad I was able to attend.