In Latine-dominant California, campus demographics, resources lag

With a troubled history, how will UC Berkeley serve its underrepresented Latine and Hispanic students?

October 13, 2022
card illustration
Alison Xiong | Staff

Content warning: police brutality

Making up more than 40% of the state’s population, Latine and Hispanic people are California’s largest ethnic group. Yet, the University of California’s flagship campus does not match this demographic profile. Less than 18% of UC Berkeley’s undergraduate and graduate students identify as Hispanic or Latine, according to fall 2022 enrollment data.

As an underrepresented population on campus, concerns exist regarding Hispanic and Latine student resource allotment, inclusion and belonging in the UC Berkeley community.

The Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, or HACU, was established in 1986 to represent institutions of higher education with large Hispanic and Latine populations. In 1992, amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965 formalized the term Hispanic-serving institution, or HSI.

To be designated a HSI, a not-for-profit institution’s full-time, or full-time equivalent, undergraduate population must be at least 25% Hispanic.

Today, 21 of the 23 CSU campuses and six of the nine UC campuses with undergraduate education are HSIs. UC Berkeley, currently, is not.

Kris Gutiérrez, co-chair of campus’s Hispanic Serving Institution Task Force and Berkeley School of Education professor, recognizes this.

“One, it has to do with geography,” Gutiérrez said. “It's much easier if I'm in Riverside. That is already a community in which there's a large demographic there for students to come to the institution without having to travel.”

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated the demographic composition of several California counties in 2021. An estimated 51.6% of Riverside County’s population was Hispanic or Latine. Meanwhile, Alameda County’s population was estimated to be 22.4% Hispanic or Latine.

Besides, matching the state’s demographic profile has not always been a top priority for campus, according to Gutiérrez.

“Having parity with the state demographics has been an aspiration, but not a central aspiration historically,” Gutiérrez said.

Gutiérrez added that this disparity may be due to the campus’s priorities in regards to maintaining its elite status.

Alexander Parra, campus junior and director of student retention for Hispanic Engineers and Scientists, shared a similar concern.

“It really goes back to what UC Berkeley views itself as, and that’s an elite, prestigious university,” Parra said. “So they actively resist anything that will in any way hurt that image.”

While UC Berkeley is not a HSI, campus is championing efforts toward educating more Hispanic and Latine students. In fall 2018, Chancellor Carol Christ unveiled plans to make UC Berkeley a HSI. At that point, only 15.2% of all UC Berkeley undergraduates identified as Hispanic or Latine.

Christ’s plans formed the Hispanic Serving Institution Task Force, composed of 30 members appointed by the chancellor. With Gutiérrez as co-chair, director of undergraduate admissions Olufemi Ogundele and director of the Chicanx Latinx Student Development Lupe Gallegos-Diaz also occupy seats on the task force.

The task force’s efforts are varied. Structured by three distinct chronological phases, it has organized focused work groups pursuing HSI eligibility, campuswide communications and investments to better serve Latine and Chicanx students.

While the COVID-19 pandemic delayed many of the task force’s plans, campus is dedicated to its original plan: applying for HSI designation by 2027. Moreover, Gutiérrez was pleased with the progress of the first phase, which set out to compile recommendations for campus by the end of 2022.

With recommendations planned, the task force has embarked on the second phase and created two new committees: an implementation committee and a steering committee.

“You have a steering committee that’s still giving overarching, high-level guidance and then an implementation committee that’s really dedicated to (doing it and putting it together),” Gutiérrez said.

Aside from increasing the presence of Hispanic undergraduates on campus, HSI designation has its financial benefits.

In fiscal year 2019 alone, $124.4 million in extra funding from the U.S. Department of Education was secured for designated HSIs. The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture also dedicated $40 million and $9.2 million, respectively. In the 2019-20 school year, 569 HSIs existed, making up only 18% of colleges and universities, according to Excelencia in Education.

If campus acquires this extra funding, Parra would like to see it distributed to the Raíces Recruitment and Retention Center, the Latinx Caucus, the ethnic studies program or organizations working to help UC Berkeley achieve an HSI designation.

“Will that happen?” Parra said. “You know, probably not.”

However, UC Berkeley is under no obligation to distribute the funds to any particular group, organization or effort, according to Gutiérrez.

Gutiérrez said she does not see this as a fault of the funding, though.

“It's got to be used in a more systemic way, which I think is really good because that's where you can start addressing infrastructure stuff,” Gutiérrez said.

She imagined that the funds could support more student-facing services, promote sustainability and forward faculty development, among other things.

Furthermore, Gutiérrez made a distinction: “You may just have the numbers, but you haven't yet gone through the transformational change to develop an HSI identity.” She thinks the funding could be used to that end.

However, the HSI designation has its complications. In 2021, California’s population was 40.2% Hispanic or Latine, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Its colleges only need to be 25% Hispanic to be HSIs.

Percent composition of Latine and Hispanic students across UC Berkeley and California K-12 public schools

The line chart above visualizes the percent composition of Hispanic or Latine students across four groups: UC Berkeley undergraduate students, UC Berkeley graduate students, UC Berkeley’s total student enrollment and all California K-12 public schools.

For UC Berkeley, the percent makeup of Hispanic and Latine students represents data from the fall semester of the plotted year. For California K-12 public schools, the percent makeup of Hispanic and Latine students represents data from the academic year starting with that year.

For example, California’s K-12 public schools were 55.9% Hispanic or Latine, according to data from the 2021-22 academic year. In fall 2021, 19.6% of UC Berkeley’s undergraduate students were Hispanic or Latine. Both 55.9% and 19.6% figures are associated with the year 2021 on the chart.

The data come from CalAnswers and the California Department of Education.

For every year on the chart, California K-12 public schools have seen an increase in the percent composition of Hispanic or Latine students. Meanwhile, UC Berkeley’s Hispanic and Latine enrollment has ebbs and flows. Only since fall 2011 has the percentage of Hispanic and Latine undergraduates increased each fall.

Even with these recent increases, UC Berkeley’s enrollment of Hispanic and Latine undergraduates still pales in comparison to that of California’s K-12 public schools.

An even greater disparity exists among UC Berkeley’s graduate students. While Hispanic and Latine people make up more than 50% of California K-12 public schools since the 2009-10 school year, they make up only 10.1% of UC Berkeley’s fall 2022 graduate enrollment.

Diversity shortfalls among graduate students are not beyond campus officials. In September 2019, Christ broadly addressed diversifying the graduate student community.

In doing so, the Graduate Diversity Task Force was launched.

“(The task force works) to increase the enrollment of underrepresented, low socioeconomic status, and first-generation graduate students and to improve the campus experience and academic outcomes for underrepresented graduate students across all of our graduate programs,” its website states.

The Graduate Diversity Task Force aims to address shortcomings in diversity as a whole — which includes LGBTQ+ students, students with disabilities and first-generation students, among others. However, Hispanic and Latine graduate enrollment did rise.

In fall 2019, Hispanic and Latine students composed 8.3% of graduate enrollment. In fall 2020, they made up 9.1%.

This increase between fall semesters was the largest for Hispanic and Latine graduate students in 15 years. History was made, but 9.1% is a far cry from UC Berkeley’s 18.5% Latine and Hispanic undergraduates in fall 2020 — and an even further cry from California K-12 public schools’ demographics.

“California does not match that demographic,” Parra said. “We need to get closer to that 40%.”

Aside from statistics, Parra takes issue with campus’s approaches to provide resources for Hispanic and Latine students. In particular, he notes campus’s response to designating a space for a Latinx Student Resource Center, or LSRC.

In January 2021, the Queer Alliance Resource Center and the bridges Multicultural Resource Center were slated to move out of their spaces in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union building. In turn, the ASUC Student Union Board of Directors heard a proposal to designate space for the resource center in the building for five years.

During the ASUC Student Union Board of Directors’ meeting Jan. 15, 2021, a public commenter expressed that the center already experienced difficulties finding a space. Another said the resource center was committed to paying for maintenance costs.

“I’m concerned that this fall as we’re coming back to campus, we will have the largest Latinx population on a campus that does not have space for them,” said former ASUC senator Nick Araujo at the meeting. At the time, UC Berkeley’s Hispanic and Latine enrollment had seen recent increases.

The board voted down the proposal in favor of converting the fourth floor into an event space to boost revenue from commercial spaces, which had been slashed by more than 80% amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The LSRC was finally given a designated space this year. It now occupies suite #2 of Hearst Memorial Gymnasium — which is in the basement, according to Parra.

“Too often, they make it clear that they don’t really care about Latinx students here at Cal, whether it's giving us literally the basement of a building for the (LSRC), or the removal of funding from ethnic studies program,” Parra alleged.

However, Parra was unsure what campus could do to better serve Hispanic and Latine students. As of right now, he believes that anything that could be done by campus is already being done by students.

He said he did not see a future in which campus takes an equal part as students in securing a more inclusive environment for various student groups.

“The formation of a lot of these centers and organizations and the ethnic studies program came out of literal violence,” Parra alleged.

Photo of three student protesters with locked arms being held in chokeholds by various UCPD officers in the campus Social Sciences Building.
Three students and multiple UCPD officers at a 1999 protest in the Social Sciences Building.
Dan Jung | File

Parra alluded to a 1999 campus protest — when UCPD officers entered a 10-hour standoff with students in the Social Sciences Building protesting budget cuts to the ethnic studies program. Some protesters were held in chokeholds by police officers or sent to a hospital for injury; 46 were arrested – primarily for trespassing.

Staying the cause, protesters refused to leave the building until Christ, then the provost, committed to 10 demands. Christ agreed to three of the protesters’ 10 demands, according to Daily Cal coverage at the time.

“That's why I don't think that the university will ever really be able to align itself with any of the various (organizations) on campus,” Parra said.

Aside from Christ’s more recent moves to promote diversity on campus as chancellor, she does remember the 1999 protest.

“If I were who I am now, then I would’ve handled it differently,” Christ said in a 2017 interview with a Daily Cal reporter. “But that’s not how (life) works.”

Parra is doubtful that UC Berkeley will submit a successful application for HSI designation by 2027.

Gutiérrez, however, remains hopeful. In her view, UC Berkeley’s efforts to achieve a HSI designation also send a larger message.

“One of the exciting things for me about UC Berkeley and UCLA saying that they want to become HSIs is that now you have two of the most elite institutions in the country who recognize that increasing its numbers of Latinx students is not in tension with maintaining its excellence,” Gutiérrez said. “Those things were always held in tension.”

Paloma Torres is the deputy projects editor. Contact her at, and follow her on Twitter at @PalomaT0rres.

Cameron Fozi is the projects editor. Contact him at, and follow him on Twitter at @cmrnfzi.

About this story

This project was developed by the Projects Department at The Daily Californian.

Data for this project come from CalAnswers and the California Department of Education.

Questions, comments or corrections? Email

Code, data and text are open-source on GitHub.

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