In recent years, universities and school districts across the nation have gone through a variety of challenges while trying to become more inclusive. At New Mexico State University, there are more diverse students this year than ever before.
A study from the Pew Research Center shows data regarding an increase in advanced and doctoral-level degrees being held within Hispanic and Latino communities. NMSU, which is a Hispanic Serving Institution and Minority Serving Institution, has been seeing those same trends within the past few years.
Kokopelli met with NMSU’s Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Vice President Teresa Maria “Linda” Scholz to gain professional insight into what these trends mean for the university.
Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I’m sure students will be interested to see how our student body participates in the national increase in advanced degrees within Hispanic and Latino communities. In terms of student enrollment, what are we seeing here at the NMSU?
Teresa Maria “Linda” Scholz: “Over the past five years, and this is just on the university campus and not the community college, students who are undergraduates who identify as Latinx, Latina or Hispanic are 62.5% [of the student body]. Compared to the state of New Mexico, where 50% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latinx, we’re higher than the state. Out of our [2,666] graduate students, almost 37% identify as Latinx.”
Looking at graduate enrollment rates from the past five years, starting in 2017, graduates who identified as Hispanic were 35.5% of the student body. Compared to 2022, graduate students are now at 34.8%. During that timeframe, NMSU’s average enrollment rate was 36.8%. This means that NMSU is within the 35% of graduate students who identify as Hispanic or Latino. How do you encourage these students to get advanced degrees?
Scholz: “To influence students to get doctoral degrees, we encourage them to go back to the academy. Are our institutions set up in a manner that is going to be supportive of the students? We certainly want an increase in representation within our faculty to reflect the student body a bit more. [We ask ourselves] who are students seeing and who are they engaged with?”
How is NMSU using these statistics to help continue this trend?
Scholz: “From data of the past five years, faculty that are non-tenured or are temporary faculty that identify as Hispanic or Latinx are 26.4%, compared to our tenured faculty which is 15.86%. We’re thinking about the faculty, and not just recruiting staff, but also retaining them. The question that we’re engaged with right now around [campus] is how are we ensuring that we’re retaining our underrepresented minorities? When we’re thinking about our student population, how is that informing our curriculum and our pedagogical practices from an asset-based approach? What do I mean by that? We know that a lot of our students are bilingual or multilingual, and that’s not just Spanish and English. Are there creative ways in which we’re engaging those skills? Are we encouraging students to use those skills in research? Are we encouraging students to use those skills in classroom assignments?”
What is NMSU’s goal for maintaining this level of diversity?
Scholz: “We want to increase the representation of underrepresented minorities, faculty, staff and administrators. [We want to] continue increasing the sense of belonging for students, evaluate some processes for professional staff and cultivate a culture of respect. That’s going to be climate work, and we’re going to do a climate survey.”
Have these ideas been officially written into an NMSU agenda?
Scholz: “It relates to [LEADS 2025 Strategic Planning] Goal 6.2. This includes representation for students, faculty, staff and administrators. We need to make sure that our affirmative action process is pretty clear. We are required and federally mandated to have affirmative action plans for our employees. That’s separate from the Supreme Court decision on admissions that uses race as a basis for admissions in college. To ensure that we’re one of the affirmative action specialists, we’re doing everything we can to attract the most diverse applicant pool.”
How are the diversity programs helping sustain inclusion on campus?
Scholz: “Some of it is socializing and getting to know each other through different ways. [For example] through different activities like Dia De Los Muertos which just happened for Hispanic Heritage Month. The diversity programs are working with student organizations. They are also ensuring that they’re supporting graduate students because, oftentimes, the assumption is that the diversity programs are just supporting undergrads. They aren’t. They’re supporting graduate students, faculty and staff.”
Do you think there is something that the Pew Research Center is missing in its study?
Scholz: “Let’s talk about that. Let’s look at our demographics. We know that [the study] tells us part of the story, but what else? What’s the part of the story that we’re missing? It’s the narrative from students and the testimonials from them working really hard. We have a great faculty here, an extension program and community engagement. They’re working really hard to ensure that we’re reaching out to broader communities. Yeah, we’ve had some challenges at NMSU over the past couple of years, but that shouldn’t overshadow all of the great work that we are doing to support our students and their communities.”