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Pamela Bishop: Hello, everyone. I’m Pamela Bishop. I’m senior director of marketing and communications for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. And I’m so pleased today to be able to introduce to some, our new Latinx initiative manager, Dr. Paméla Cappas-Toro. Hi, Paméla, how are you?

Paméla Cappas-Toro: Hi, Pamela. I’m doing great, thank you.

Pamela Bishop: Yes. And so, when now we have two people who spell their names the same in the division, but we’ve decided that this is the easiest way to make it. You are Paméla and I’m Pamela, right? So that’s the way we’re going to refer to each other today. And that’s how we keep track here in EDI. But we are thrilled to have you here, Paméla, and tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you here to Utah.

Paméla Cappas-Toro: Yes. So my name is Paméla Cappas-Toro. I’m coming from Florida. I was an associate professor of world languages and cultures, Latinx studies, and I was also the co-director of a higher education in prison program over there, as well as, La Casa Cultural Latina. And what brought me here to Utah is just, you know, looking for new opportunities and adventures here.

Pamela Bishop: Awesome. Awesome. And I know you’ll be leading our charge along with there’s an Emerging HSI committee, but on becoming an HSI — a Hispanic serving institution. And explain to people what that means, because sometimes people think, “okay, we’re moving away from serving everyone to just serving Hispanic students.” Explain the difference of what that is and what you hope to accomplish.

Paméla Cappas-Toro: Yes. So a lot of the you know, in the United States, as we know, in higher education institutions, a lot of institutions are predominantly White institutions that is the denomination that we have. But because of the demographic changes, right, that means that we are getting more Latinx students enrolled into a lot of the universities. So for an institution to become an HSI is based on enrollment of Latinx students, right, so many places that they have, reached the 25% enrollment with, you know, with other processes as well, they become HSI’s, right? So it’s a term that it’s about like Latinx enrollment, but also thinking about how we serve not only Latinx students, but also a lot of other students, right? Because, you know, when we think about the HSI and who they enroll, you know, in terms of like percentages, for instance, HSI’s enroll 41% of Asian students, 35% of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, and 26% of multiracial students, 24% of Black students. And it also serves White students, right? So it encompasses everybody when we think about Hispanic serving institutions.

Pamela Bishop: Thank you, Paméla. So tell us a little about what you want to accomplish in this role. It’s a new role for the university. So whenever you’re pioneering something, there are obviously, you know, there are challenges, but there’s a lot of, there’s lots of opportunity. Tell me a little about what you think success looks like for the university.

Paméla Cappas-Toro: Yes. So I think that, you know, there’s a lot of things that the University of Utah has been doing very good in terms of like serving Latinx students. So I hope that I can keep collaborating with different campus constituents to assist the U to amplify and sustain initiatives that support Latinx community. And that’s something that it’s super important for me. But, you know, like thinking about like the future is just to keep engaging in conversation and how to make the U more viable place for Latinx students, staff, faculty, community members. And as such, right, like when we’re thinking about that is kind of like how to make the U a place where they feel that they belong.

And, you know, like the long-term, of course, will be the reach of the HSI status but very short-term, right, like thinking about how we can become an emerging HSI, right? Because we’re almost there. We have 13.4% of full-time students that are Latinx students that are enrolled here. So I think that the first big celebration could be, right, when we reach that 15%. But also thinking about strategies that can improve not only how do we serve our Latinx students, but this like initiatives would really, really help to better serve the whole community here at the U. So I think that that would be like the first big thing, right? Like reaching that emerging HSI, and yeah. [Laughs]

Pamela Bishop: Yeah, and that, you know, that’s a great point you raise about the whole notion of, you know, people always think about, “okay, the number of students that we should have: 25%,” but that’s just the recruitment thing. We also have to think about retention. And so I think that’s, you know, so like you said, finding ways for people to believe, you know, feel like to really feel a sense of belonging here at the university is critical. So I’m so excited that, you know, there are people working on those recruitment numbers, but you’re working on how do we retain people? How do we really make it a place that people can belong? So I’m excited about that. Okay, lastly, tell us about how people can keep up to date on this work and what you’re doing.

Paméla Cappas-Toro: Yes. So I’m reaching out to as many people as I can, right? I love to engage in conversations with staff, students, faculty, community members. So, you know, like you can reach me through my email or you can visit me in passing and visit me during my office hours, right? Like we can arrange also a Zoom meeting. I can go and visit you in person. We can have a cafesito. Whatever it is that you think. Super excited about chatting and thinking about how we can amplify your initiatives or if you have a new project that you’re thinking about that this will help the U to make students feel that they belong, right, that they can thrive here. Connect with me and I would love to discuss whatever it is that you’re thinking or your plans or whichever project that you’re currently working on in serving Latinx students.

Pamela Bishop: Awesome. Thank you so much. I’m so excited that we have a position like yours here at the U. I think between yours and previously we interviewed your, I guess your counterpart, Rodney Cohen — Dr. Rodney Cohen who’s doing the HBCU initiatives. And I really think, you know, we in EDI are really stepping out here to say we want to not only embrace, you know, diverse students, we want them to feel like they belong here. So let’s build not only, you know, recruitment, but let’s also fill the foundation for belonging. So I’m excited.

And as she said, you can reach her through email. You can also go to our website, and if you go on to “Our Team,” you’ll see Paméla and you’ll be able to get her contact information there. Thank you so much and welcome again to the U.

Paméla Cappas-Toro: Thank you. Have a lovely day.

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