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Faculty ‘cluster hire’ to increase support for Latinx students at Sac State

Sacramento State, a federal Hispanic-Serving Institution, is increasing its number of faculty who have demonstrated records of providing support and serving Latinx students in an effort to reinforces the University’s commitment to ensuring academic success and a welcoming environment for all students, such as the ones shown near the Tschannen Science Complex. (Sacramento State file/Jessica Vernone)

As a federal Hispanic-Serving Institution and the recipient of the prestigious Seal of Excelencia, Sacramento State has received praise for its service to Latinx students.

The University is now taking steps to help ensure its significant Latinx student population is better supported and served by increasing the number of faculty who have demonstrated records of providing that support and service.

Statistics show that 37% of Sac State students and 9% of faculty are Latinx. The University is seeking to help balance those numbers by hiring more faculty members with backgrounds in serving Latinx students. Among 35 faculty members hired for fall 2024, seven have significant experience working with Latinx students. The University will bolster that progress by hiring, for fall 2025, 17 more faculty who have records of success in research, teaching, mentoring and otherwise serving Latinx students.

Carlos Nevarez and President Luke Wood.
Carlos Nevarez, Sacramento State interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, left, and President Luke Wood. (Sacramento State file/Andrea Price)

Sac State’s Latinx “cluster hire” is its first, said Carlos Nevarez, interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. The effort reinforces the University’s commitment to ensuring that everyone feels welcomed on campus, he said.

“It’s important for our students to see individuals who care about them, have a historical commitment to serving them, and understand their cultural traditions and values,” Nevarez said. “They need to see themselves in our faculty members.

“Unfortunately, many students go through high school and college without having a teacher or a professor who embraces their identities and cultural heritage. For some, it can make them feel like they don’t really belong.”

The University’s search for candidates to fill the 17 faculty positions begins this fall.

Qualified candidates will have records that reflect excellence in serving Latinx students as mentors and teachers, as well as evidence of service and contributions to their communities, Nevarez said. The new hires will work across various disciplines and departments.

Cluster hiring – hiring multiple instructors into one or more departments based on shared backgrounds and interests – is being done increasingly at universities throughout the nation. Research suggests that the approach can improve academic excellence by breaking down organizational silos, allocating resources to benefit the whole institution and attracting innovative, nontraditional scholars.

“Cluster hiring is a powerful strategy for transforming our University's landscape and truly serving our diverse student population,” Sac State President Luke Wood said. “These new faculty members will not only enhance our research and teaching, but also will create a more inclusive environment where all students can thrive and see themselves represented in positions of academic leadership.

“We cannot truly be a Hispanic-Serving Institution unless we make demonstrable strides in actually serving Latinx students. This effort sends a clear message to our students that we see you, we are here for you, and your futures are our priority.”

In accordance with Proposition 209 – passed by California voters in 1996 to prohibit consideration of race, sex or ethnicity as criteria in public employment, public contracting and public education – faculty who are part of the cluster hires are not required to be Latinx. Research shows, however, that cluster hires also can benefit faculty coming from underrepresented communities.

“Our faculty of color often say they feel taxed and burned out from being among the few voices of diversity and equity in their departments or colleges,” Nevarez said.

“If we can build capacity, and we have diversity among faculty, it creates a better work environment.”

Sac State has implemented other cluster hires in recent years, including one focusing on diversity and equity. In June, the University announced the addition of five faculty members in the College of Arts and Letters whose backgrounds are focused on “social practice,” including promoting inclusion.

“Faculty who specialize in studying and teaching the Latinx experience in our society and in their respective academic fields are aware of the historical, educational and access inequities that Latinx communities and other minoritized communities have faced and continue to face today." -- Lina Rincon, Sac State associate professor of Sociology

Lina Rincon, a Sac State associate professor of Sociology and former director of Faculty Diversity and Inclusion, said the latest initiative reflects “a crucial effort” to better serve students.

“Faculty who specialize in studying and teaching the Latinx experience in our society and in their respective academic fields are aware of the historical, educational and access inequities that Latinx communities and other minoritized communities have faced and continue to face today,” Rincon said.

Such awareness informs their approach to teaching, she said.

“For example, these faculty are likely to diversify the curriculum and critically discuss the experiences and contributions of Latinx and other minoritized academics,” Rincon said. “At the same time, they are also more prone to adopt teaching approaches that ensure that our students identify and truly engage with their learning process by centering their own experience as a form of knowledge.”

Associated Students Inc. President Nataly Andrade-Dominguez said she welcomes the additions to the faculty.

“As a Latina student, it's important for me to see faculty who make us feel safe and comfortable knowing we have someone who we can go to for help or support who understands our culture and backgrounds,” she said. “As a first-generation student, it also shows me that people who look like me can work in higher education and in positions that we typically don't see people of color in. It's truly heartwarming to see Sac State acknowledge the lack of Latinx faculty and taking steps to fix those equity gaps. “

Associate Sociology Professor Heidy Sarabia said the effort to diversify Sac State’s faculty must be ongoing.

“This cluster hire represents an initial attempt to address this gross underrepresentation,” Sarabia said. “But to get anywhere near adequate representation, these efforts will have to be continuous and sustained over time.”

Ultimately, the effort should lead to a better college experience for Latinx students, Rincon said.

“Most importantly, it will lead to an increased sense of belonging for our Latinx students, a more positive academic experience for them, and increased Latinx graduation rates at Sac State.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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