Hispanic heritage: Part of Tampa’s tapestry

Hillsborough Community College's Brandon Campus hosted its second Women Empowered event, Latinas in Tech. (All photos: HCC)

While Hispanic Heritage Month gives us a dedicated opportunity to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of our Latinx students and partners, Hillsborough Community College’s commitment goes beyond a month-long celebration. The college prides itself on increasing access to higher education, degree attainment and workforce training for all students; however, it continues to work thoughtfully and diligently to remove remaining barriers to postsecondary education, such as lack of resources, finances and language for underrepresented and other marginalized communities.

Located in Tampa, Hillsborough Community College (HCC) is the fourth-largest community college in Florida’s State College System, serving more than 43,000 students annually at its five campuses, three centers and online. HCC is the only federally designated Hispanic-serving institution (HSI) in the region.

Currently, 37% of HCC students identify as Hispanic and Latinx. As a result, HCC is a majority-minority institution. As an HSI and a majority-minority institution, HCC honors Hispanic Heritage Month by focusing on our commitment to student success and celebrating the rich cultural heritage and impact of the region’s Latinx communities.

In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, CC Daily is publishing a series of articles profiling programs and colleges’ approaches to serving and celebrating their Hispanic students and communities.

Building from within

HCC’s Linea de Acceso Taskforce headed by Paige Niehaus, campus president of the Dale Mabry Campus, brings together administrators and faculty to uncover and tackle obstacles facing Latinx students and their families. In addition to recognizing the importance of representation, HCC’s leadership continues to work towards ensuring that our institution reflects our student body and the communities we serve.

Since 2006, the college has hosted the nationally recognized Black, Brown & College Bound Summit (BBCB) to address the national problem of a lack of persistence, retention and graduation success for Black and Latino students. An impressive list of BBCB keynote speakers includes the late Gen. Collin Powel, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, American correspondent John Quiñones, University of California, Berkeley professor and author Carlos Muñoz, Jr., chair of neurologic surgery at the Mayo Clinic Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa and former Major League Baseball pitcher Cesar Ramos.

Somos HCC, the college’s Hispanic and Latino Advisory Council, recently hosted a student alum panel to discuss the Hispanic student experience.

The college’s Diversity Councils, comprising students, staff and faculty, review current diversity initiatives and recommend new events and opportunities. SOMOS HCC, the college’s Hispanic and Latinx Advisory Committee, is in its second year of hosting Bilingual Nights (Noches Bilingües), open-house-style events hosted on HCC campuses. Each campus organizes an event that reflects the cultural identity and needs of the Spanish-speaking communities it serves, but all are opportunities to connect HCC Spanish-speaking staff with students and families to deliver information on academics, student services, financial aid and more. In doing so, HCC aims to demystify the college enrollment process, remove language as a barrier and incentivize postsecondary participation at all levels as a critical element of the economic prosperity of the region.

Reaching into the community

During the Covid pandemic, the college’s marketing department developed a Spanish-language landing page on the external site that housed general academic information needed to enroll and engage at HCC. In October 2020, the landing page was integrated with Hillsborough County Public School System’s “Pasos al Futuro” events, which deliver college information to Hispanic and Latinx families. As part of our continued work to remove language barriers, HCC is in the process of translating its external website (hccfl.edu) to Spanish, an initiative approved by the its board of trustees to meet the needs of not just students, but the families of those who would like to be more involved in the college process.

HCC students also have resources such as HOPE Scholars, which focuses on improving degree completion and upper-division transfer rates among Black and Latino students. Through academic, personal and motivational support, students are prepared to attain high achievement in academic pursuits, career aspirations and quality of life. After 12 years of college support, 538 Black and Hispanic male students participated in the program. Eighty-eight percent of the participants identified as first-generation; extraordinarily, 86% graduated and transferred to four-year universities.

This year, HCC campuses are proudly celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by hosting activities such as a Women in Technology panel, a presentation by Jose Manuel Garcia on his book and award-winning documentary “Voices from Mariel and a panel discussion with Hispanic leaders from the region co-hosted with St. Petersburg College’s Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions.

Investigative reporter Josh Rojas last week moderated a panel of Tampa Bay area Hispanic leaders at HCC’s in Ybor City Campus.

Historic roots

Hispanic Heritage Month events are opportunities to come together as a college community to highlight the contributions of the Latinx community in our region. However, HCC recognizes that our responsibility as a HSI is to work year-round to ensure that our institution reflects the communities we serve, at all levels of leadership, and to continue to open access to postsecondary education and to improve completion rates among our Latinx students.

HCC is fortunate to be located in a region rich in diversity. The HCC Ybor City Campus, specifically, is housed in Tampa’s historic Latin Quarter, the first home of many immigrant groups including Cubans, Spaniards, Italians and Germans who arrived in the 19th century to work in cigar factories. Ybor City is a neighborhood where history and culture are celebrated and preserved. The HCC Ybor City Campus reflects its diverse community with campus murals showcasing the vibrancy of the people who have called Ybor City home, historical buildings that once housed a network of support for the community’s cigar workforce and even the chickens roaming Ybor City’s streets who are said to have been left behind by immigrant families. With more than 50 years of calling Tampa Bay home, HCC is a bridge to economic prosperity connecting memories of the past to a future of academic achievement and a diverse, vibrant and skilled workforce.

¡Felíz Mes De La Herencia Hispana!

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Dr. Kenneth Ray, Jr., is vice president of student services and enrollment management at Hillsborough Community College (HCC) in Tampa, Florida.

Dr. Larissa R. Baía is president of HCC’s Ybor City Campus.