Westfield State University launches Latinx Education Advisory Committee

Westfield State University launches Latinx Education Advisory Committee

Part of University’s initiative toward achieving federal Hispanic-Serving Institution designation, commitment to Latinx students in Western Massachusetts

Westfield State University has launched the Latinx Education Advisory Committee for the 2021-2022 academic year and announced its membership, which encompasses business and community leaders of the Pioneer Valley. 

Westfield State is working to become a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI)—an initiative that will have a significant impact on the University and its surrounding communities. As part of this important process, the University has created a Latinx Education Advisory Committee comprised of community leaders, including Westfield State alumni, from Springfield and Holyoke. Being federally designated an HSI will influence the University’s operations—especially academic support, inclusion, recruitment, and enrollment; fundraising for student financial aid; and developing stronger relationships with organizations, school districts, and families in Springfield and Holyoke. The committee’s recommendations will be intended to better serve the needs of Latinx students and all students of color at Westfield State. 

“We are energized to create a dedicated community that understands the changing needs of its students, especially its Latinx and historically excluded students and alumni, throughout their time at the University and after graduation,” said Westfield State President Linda Thompson, DrPH, MPH, RN, FAAN. “Our commitment will aid our institution in gaining the cultural capital to better serve our diverse students, faculty, and staff on campus.” 

Thompson explained that she envisions Westfield State becoming a model in the communities it serves. With the support of the Latinx Education Advisory Committee, Westfield State can become a Hispanic-Serving Institution and gain the resources necessary to meet the needs of its Latinx and historically excluded students. 

“We want all our students to have access to the opportunity to thrive in society,” said President Thompson. “The initiative to become a federally designated HSI embraces Westfield State University’s mission and vision by founder Horace Mann: to provide an education for all individuals without barriers.” 

Latinx students attending HSIs have higher completion rates than those attending non-HSIs, according to Committee Chair Enrique Morales-Diaz, Ph.D., interim dean of faculty at Westfield State and acting associate dean of the Office of Teacher Education, Licensure, and Outreach. 

“It is our hope that as the committee works together, Westfield State can embark on the right path to becoming a Hispanic-Serving Institution, and, at the same time, evolve into a more welcoming and supportive environment for all of our historically marginalized students,” he said. “Establishing the Latinx Education Advisory Committee is an important step in Westfield State University’s commitment to our Latinx students in this region.”  

Committee meetings are held quarterly; the first will be Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. 

The Committee members include: 

Javier Cruz, board member, Westfield Spanish American Association; Jose Delgado ’08, director, Western Mass. Office of the Governor; Derek Estrella ’19, senior community outreach counselor at Holyoke Community College; Manuel Frau-Ramos, editor of El Sol Latino; State Sen. Adam Gomez, State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez; Waleska Lugo DeJesus ’10 M’12, CEO of Inclusive Strategies LLC; Betty Medina-Lichtenstein, founding executive director of Enlace de Familias Inc.; Myriam Quinonez, special programs coordinator, Multicultural Academic Services at Holyoke Community College; Anthony Soto, receiver/superintendent of Holyoke Public Schools; Agma Sweeney-Parilla, president of Westfield Spanish American Association; Elizabeth Roman, reporter for The (Springfield) Republican, and editor of El Pueblo Latino; and Hector Zavala ’05, attorney. 

The University is undergoing several other related initiatives, among them the creation of the Office of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and the hiring of its first chief diversity officer who will serve as part of the President’s Cabinet and President’s Council. Westfield State has also joined the Leading Change for Diversity in Higher Education consortium at Bridgewater State University and has formed its own Racial Equity and Justice Team (REJI). This team is comprised of faculty, staff, and administrators that are analyzing data to make significant recommendations for changes that will have positive impacts on the lives of Westfield State students of color. 

“Westfield State is committed to expanding opportunities for students, faculty, and staff of color across campus; to helping raise understanding, awareness, and support of the University’s diverse communities; and to advancing racial equity and justice on campus,” said Dean Morales-Diaz, who also oversees REJI.