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By Alexander Osornio, Nov. 2, 2021

Cal Poly Pomona was ranked by Hispanic Outlook on Education Magazine in October as No. 1 for polytechnics and No. 18 nationally for total bachelor’s degrees granted to Hispanic/Latinx students, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

While the magazine announced the rankings with praise, they conflict with the sentiments of some members of CPP’s Latinx community who still face underrepresentation in higher education, academic pressure and inequity.

Wendy Córdova, coordinator for the César E. Chávez Center for Higher Education, recognized equity gaps as an ongoing issue that go beyond the actions and experiences of any one individual student.

“This work is something that is needed, and it requires more than just one or two people thinking about how we are able to remove barriers for students to achieve their lifetime dreams,” said Córdova, discussing the efforts of CECCHE to hear out the experiences of students of color.

The César E. Chávez Center for Higher Education brings their signature coffin out for cultural holidays such as Día de Muertos. (Georgia Valdes | The Poly Post)

Esmerai Sanchez, an early childhood studies student who interns at CECCHE and previously worked with the Bronco Dreamers Resource Center, connects with these issues on a personal level.

Her struggles include having to leave in the early morning to spend an hour commuting to campus, juggling multiple jobs, familial responsibilities and working with the campus’ Cultural Centers.

Additionally, Sanchez is an undocumented, first-generation student, giving her the added financial concern of how to pay for tuition. While she has received assistance from the campus’ Undocumented Student Services in finding scholarships, this also adds to the pressure she faces to do well academically.

“I have this opportunity; I can’t just let it be for nothing,” Sanchez said.

An issue Sanchez encountered were barriers in pursuing a doctoral program as an undocumented student at CPP. She described being referred from one person to another and realizing many of her needs fall outside the scope of what CPP offers.

She felt that her experience conflicted with the messaging that CPP’s recent rankings were announced with.

“It’s implying that there is more help, resources or pathways here than any other polytechnic,” Sanchez said. “But if you don’t look for those resources yourself, they are not going to give them to you.”

In an Aug. 17 forum, Interim Provost Iris Levine reaffirmed CPP’s participation in the California State University’s Graduation Initiative 2025, which set graduation goals for the CSU and its campuses to accomplish by 2025.

Among these goals is the elimination of equity gaps for underrepresented students by identifying the sources of these gaps. However, Levine noted that the university had fallen short of its goals in reducing equity gaps for underrepresented students.

Córdova associates the burdens underrepresented students confront primarily with “the cost of being a student as it relates to the multiple responsibilities that students of color face.” Specific barriers for students she mentioned include familial responsibilities, having to work multiple jobs, and difficulties in receiving financial aid — a problem particularly relevant to undocumented students.

Alvaro Huerta, associate professor in Urban and Regional Planning and Ethnic and Women’s Studies departments, took a holistic look at the issue of inequity. He asserted that the university as well as the CSU must have parity in student and faculty representation to have true equity.

“While the CSU is willing to accept all these Latinos and Latinas … they’re not willing to accept the faculty members that become instrumental to their success,” he said.

Huerta affirmed the importance to students that they be able to see themselves represented in the faculty they engage with.

“When you’re the only Mexican American, Central American, South American or whatever… and you don’t see yourself in your professors, you don’t feel like you belong,” he said. “You feel like you’re less than.”

This disparity for students in seeing themselves represented by campus faculty is something that Huerta believes the CSU has failed to address adequately.

“The burden is not on the people; the burden is on the institutions,” Huerta added.

As someone who comes from a working-class background, Huerta also highlighted the intersection of identities within the Latinx student population.

“At the end of the day … it can’t just be all middle class because then you’re discriminating against the working class.”

Like Huerta, Anthony Ocampo, a professor in the Department of Sociology, noted that the intersection between ethnicity and identity is one that gets neglected by this ranking.

“The Latinx student that grows up middle class in Walnut is not the same as a student who went to underserved schools and is undocumented in Pomona,” he said.

Ocampo extended the importance of the intersection of identity to queer students of color, a group he notes has been given less attention despite already being underrepresented.

Despite these slights, Ocampo feels that a ranking such as this is worth celebrating as a community while still affirming that “it’s also important for us to be critical about what these headlines are missing.”

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