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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Challenging the Manufactured Identity of Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs): Co-constructing an Organizational Identity

  • Author(s): Garcia, Gina Ann
  • Advisor(s): Hurtado, Sylvia
  • et al.

With the burgeoning of the Latina/o student population in postsecondary institutions, the federal government now designates institutions enrolling 25% or more undergraduate Latina/o students as Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs). Enrolling over 50% of all Latina/o college students, HSIs are important contributors to the enrollment, persistence, and graduation of Latinas/os. The perennial question facing HSIs, however, is what does it mean to serve Latina/o students? As an emerging institutional form, HSIs are undergoing the process of establishing normative behaviors, values, and identities. Having a clear identity is an important way for organizations to establish legitimacy and manage their external environment. The purpose of this study was to determine the ways in which various members of a postsecondary institution co-construct their organizational identity as a HSI. Using a case study design inclusive of interviews with key institutional members, focus groups with students, document reviews, and formal observations, this research examined the way one large, public, four-year master's granting institution (NSU) is undergoing the process of identifying as a HSI. This study contributes to a theoretical understanding of organizational identity construction, with a specific focus on one distinct organizational label, and has implications for institutional practice and federal policy. Results exhibit that when asked "Who are we as an organization?" members used sensegiving processes to draw on formal identity claims about the most central, distinct, and enduring aspects of the organization's identity. This included four core values of the organization including: regionally focused, committed to the community, dedicated to access, and serving of a diverse population. Evidence in this case posits that these four core identities are integrated with the HSI designation, although it is a latent identity less salient to most members. Through sensemaking processes, members drew on deeply held assumptions and embedded practices, constructing their HSI identity based on organizational structures and processes that reflect a Latina/o-serving mission. This study suggests that both sensemaking and sensegiving are important in the co-construction of an organizational identity while challenging the notion that the HSI identity is strictly manufactured and driven by enrollment. Furthermore, it proposes a theoretical framework for studying the organizational identity of HSIs.

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