Boise State prepares to respond to Biden’s new Hispanic equity order

Photo courtesy of Doug Mills

President Biden announced a new initiative aimed at advancing educational equity and economic opportunity for Hispanic students.

The executive order was published on Sept. 13 on the White House’s website under the name “White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics.”

The initiative aims to minimize the “systemic inequitable barriers” impacting the education of this marginalized group, many of which were exacerbated after the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order also created the new Presidential Advisory Commission on Advancing Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics, which is currently working to create guidelines for the order.

Vice President Kamala Harris, left, looks on as U.S. President Joe Biden signs executives orders related to his racial equity agenda in the State Dining Room of the White House on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)
[Vice President Kamala Harris, left, looks on as U.S. President Joe Biden signs executives orders related to his racial equity agenda in the State Dining Room of the White House on Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Washington, D.C.]
Photo courtesy of Doug Mills

“With an executive order like this … it seems like the majority of the work is not even started yet, so these recommendations are gonna be coming from these task forces and these working groups,” said Mike Sharp, Boise State director of media relations. “Right now they’re still starting to build those things.”

The most recent numbers published by the university show that 13% of students enrolled in Boise State identify as Hispanic/Latino. That’s 3,047 students total.

Since 2012, there’s been a 5% increase in the amount of Latinx attending Boise State, a number which continues to grow.

“If you look nationwide, and Idaho is not an exception to this, one of the fastest-growing demographics really are Hispanic students and so that’s something that, as a public institution, we want to serve the people,” said John Buckwalter, provost and vice president of academic affairs for Boise State University. “Those are our students, those are our potential students.”

In his time working at different institutions, Buckwalter provided academic mentorship to college students, some of whom identified as Latinx.

“There are some common barriers, in the sense that you tend to have a lot of first-generation college students, and so navigating just the simple process of applying can be overwhelming,” Buckwalter said. “There may be some unrealistic expectations in terms of what it means to go to college.”

Junior political science major and vice president of Inclusive Excellence Student Council (IESC) Grace Burgert believes eliminating some of these unrealistic expectations would first require getting rid of language barriers.

“I think one of the hardest parts about coming from a family that has English as a second language is that when you encounter forms and documentation, things that you have to fill out, it’s really difficult because the language in there is even hard for people who speak the language to understand because of the jargon that it uses,” Burgert said.

According to Burgert, what makes this barrier significant is its impact on a student’s ability to ask for help.

“If you’re thinking about reaching out to professors, it can be extremely intimidating because you don’t know how to construct an email to a professor; you’re nervous about constructing an email because you don’t know what that professionalism looks like,” Burgert said.

Biden’s order outlines the potential for new Latinx-oriented programs and initiatives specific to Boise State. However, the university could also respond by working to maximize the reach of programs already in place.

Boise State is home to many different organizations dedicated to supporting its Latinx population. Some of these include Organización de Estudiantes Latino-Americanos (OELA), Movimiento Estudiantil Progressive Action (MEPA) and the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP).

“If [the university] doesn’t want to start something new, there are still a lot of programs that they could enhance,” Burgert said.

The order could also provide that final push for the university to act on passed resolutions that have yet to be implemented.

Two years ago, IESC passed the “Welcome Passenger Initiative.” Two of its clauses promised to make university resources multilingual and to provide legal services for DACA renewal, both of which currently lack enforcement.

“If we could get even more support to actually start working on resource accessibility for multilingual students and then also the DACA renewal — legal assistance for that — that would be amazing,” Burgert said. “The university is in a tough position right now because of external politics that are happening in Idaho and so I know that they’re kind of weary about this kind of stuff, but I’m hoping that because it’s all already been passed … that they can actually prioritize it.”

When looking at ways to implement Biden’s new Hispanic equity order, both Buckwalter and Burgert emphasize looking to other schools for example.

“I think the university could also look towards other colleges in Idaho. I know that CSI has actually been really great at helping it’s latinx students,” Burgert said.

College of Southern Idaho became Idaho’s first Hispanic Serving Institution in 2021, a classification which allows the university to apply for more federal grants.

“I think at some point in the future, Boise State could be a Hispanics serving institution,” Buckwalter said. 

As the Presidential Advisory Commission continues expanding Biden’s order, Boise State prepares to respond in a way that will benefit the student population.

“Here at Boise State, we’re excited about serving our Hispanic students. It’s something that is on our mind and we continue to look for ways we can make all students, including Hispanic students, successful here in the institution so they can move on to meaningful lives and meaningful careers,” Buckwalter said.

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