Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Antonio Esquibel, the former Vice President of Student Affairs and Board of Trustees member and Dr. Luis Torres, the former Deputy Provost of Metropolitan State University at Denver and talk about our part in the University’s journey, especially as it relates to Latino heritage. As I think back on our conversation, I have a feeling that the journey for Metro in this regard, has been somewhat circular.
That is, when Metro State, University of Colorado at Denver and Community College of Denver were installed in Auraria, a very important Latino neighborhood was displaced in order to make room for them. Now, the Latino community has made another important contribution as the Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) designation has been awarded to Metro in recognition of meeting the 25 percent (the institution is at 28 percent) Latino student enrollment threshold.
An HSI designation allows MSU to apply and receive millions of additional dollars from a variety of agencies in the federal government to help in the development of the institution and its students. It is much like the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) designation that allows African American colleges and universities to apply for set asides in the same federal agencies.
Latinos made the sacrifice of giving up their homes for the benefit of the Auraria institutions but, at the same time, did not abandon an effort to see to it that especially Metro was held to a promise of engaging that community in the benefits of college preparation. When I came to MSU in the 1970’s the Chicano Movement was on the streets of Denver agitating for justice and space in the social, educational, political conversations for effective change.
The Chicano Movement was a major actor in holding Metro State to its promise. It is not too far to say that many of these activists saw the institution as part of their home turf.
The idea of MSU becoming an “Hispanic Serving Institution” was an organic choice on the part of Latinos from the very beginning of the college in 1965. When I came in the following decade, there was obvious evidence of this tradition in academic disciplines including a Department of Chicano Studies.
The growth in Latino students at Metro State achieved record numbers from the very beginning of its history. The percentages however did not reflect that because as a college of opportunity, MSU was growing at a rapid rate and students from every ethnic and racial background in the Denver area were flocking to its campus.
When I came to help lead the institution, there were little over 7,000 students and growing. When I left 3 decades later, there were 21,000 and stable.
It was in the latter enrollment environment that a major drive toward HSI status took place. The fact is that Latino growth continued at its usual rapid pace in a time when overall student enrollment had slowed.
Thanks to the Latino community, the achievement of HSI status is a major accomplishment that serves to open a new gallery of opportunities for the institution and its students. This brings us full circle from a Latino community that initially made space for the Auraria institutions and now has come back to make space for institutional transformation.
MSU Denver’s epic journey has led to it becoming one of the most important urban institutions in the country. That legacy however, can not be assessed or celebrated without its major partner, the Latino community.