Hispanic haven

How UCI helps Latinx students strive and thrive

By Lilibeth Garcia

While National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15) honors the achievements of Americans who hail from Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, South America and Spain, UCI is continually aware of the accomplishments of Hispanic faculty, staff, students and alumni. In 2017, the university was named a Hispanic-serving institution, a federal designation meaning – among other things – that one-quarter of undergraduates identify as Latinx. And because UCI is the most popular University of California campus among the state’s Latinx high school graduates, those numbers are projected to grow. Below are some of the programs, people and opportunities that enable Hispanic students at UCI to thrive:

For students interested in researching the historical and modern experiences of Hispanic cultures and Americans with Latin American roots, options abound. UCI offers a bachelor’s degree, a minor, a certificate program and a graduate emphasis in Chicano/Latino studies. A Spanish major and minor, a minor in Spanish/English bilingual education and a graduate program are available through the Department of Spanish & Portuguese. In addition, the UCI Latin American Studies Center facilitates dialogue among scholars, students and local community members through public programs, conferences, film screenings and musical events relating to Latin America and its diaspora. Last year, UCI established the Latinx Resource Center, a space to empower and support students by equipping them with the tools they need to make the most out of their university experience.

Meet the Department of Chicano/Latino Studies. From left to right: Prof. Glenda Flores, Prof. Laura Enriquez, Grad Student Francisco Jasso, Prof. Anita Casavantes Bradford, Prof. Belinda Campos, Prof. and Chair Louis DeSipio

UCI boasts renowned Latinx faculty, alumni and administrators. Among them is Distinguished Professor Emerita Vicki Ruiz, who was awarded the 2014 National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama for her pioneering work in Chicana/Latina studies. Héctor Tobar, associate professor of Chicano/Latino studies and English, won a Pulitzer Prize while reporting at the Los Angeles TimesEloy Ortiz Oakley, a first-generation student who earned a bachelor’s degree and an MBA at UCI, is the first Latinx chancellor of California Community Colleges. And Mario Molina, who as a postdoctoral researcher at UCI, discovered along with UCI chemist F. Sherwood Rowland that chlorofluorocarbons were destroying the Earth’s protective ozone layer. These led to a world-wide ban on these aerosols; for this, Molina and Rowland received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Prof. Vicki Ruiz
Prof. Hector Tobar
Alum Eloy Ortiz Oakley

There are at least two dozen Latinx student organizations on campus, ranging from career-focused and recreational clubs and multicultural fraternities/sororities to political and social justice groups and even a Latinx theater ensemble. Typically, an annual Latinx involvement fair showcasing the many options is held at the beginning of fall quarter.

“Ni de Aquí, Ni de Allá” is a full length play by the Brown Bag Theater Company. Photo credit: Brown Bag Theater Company

Casa César Chávez, a theme house in the Arroyo Vista complex on campus, provides students with a variety of academic, social and cultural activities. Although it’s sponsored by the Chicano/Latino studies department, all students are welcome. La Casa Nuestra, also in Arroyo Vista, is a strictly Spanish-speaking theme house in which students can improve their language skills and learn more about Hispanic cultures.

Established in 1994, Casa César Chávez is located in the Arroyo Vista Housing Complex at UCI. The academic theme house is sponsored by the Department of Chicano/Latino Studies (DCLS).

UCI is only the second member of the prestigious Association of American Universities to be federally designated as a Hispanic-serving institution – a status that makes faculty, staff and students eligible to apply for minority-serving institution grants, internships and partnerships.

UCI’s one-of-a-kind Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community educates medical students about the needs of underserved Latinx communities through interdisciplinary classes and hands-on training. In addition to standard coursework, the future physicians take Chicano/Latino studies classes that mix sociology with medicine and learn the values of leadership, advocacy and service.

PRIME-LC feature: Oscar Hernandez thrives as School of Medicine’s first DACA student

Of the 122,210 applications the campus received for fall 2020, UCI topped the UC for the most Latinx applicants (26,914).

Future Anteaters at College Signing Day hosted on campus in 2019.