Abe Villarreal, Western New Mexico University Assistant Dean of Student Support, is an alumnus and a current student. “I study educational leadership and love the program,” he says. “WNMU is where I grew up as a young adult, and it’s been my bread and butter for the last 11 years. I love that students have the chance to discover themselves here.”
Being part of a Hispanic Serving Institution is important to Abe. “Of course, I’m Hispanic. I grew up in a border community. My roots are in Mexico. I really value that the designation puts a special focus on a community that has historically not had the opportunities for academic success. We should take that seriously and create programming to serve that community,” he says.
Abe recently developed a Latino GroupMe for other Hispanic people at WNMU. “It’s creating community with a specific group of students on campus, where they can talk to each other share concerns that they might not share with others on campus. One way we can create more graduating students is to make sure they have a sense of belonging,” he says.
Other things he’d like to see WNMU do to emphasize the Hispanic Serving Institution designation is sell Spanish language Tshirts, serve culturally significant food more often in the Mustang Dining Hall. “Many of these other universities are HSIs by name only. We’re trying to do a better job,” he says. “We can have Hispanic faculty and administrators but we can do more.”
While WNMU is close to the border, like Abe’s hometown, the culture is different, he says. “I’d never had a sopapilla before I came here. I had never put an egg on my enchilada.”
Abe says it’s important for WNMU to speak to students who identify as Hispanic and are from Spanish-speaking countries other than Mexico. “The beautiful part about Hispanic culture is that it’s diverse and complex. Some students relate to the term Hispanic in a different way than I do.”
Abe says he particularly appreciates how the open enrollment system at WNMU gives Hispanic students prospects they might not otherwise have. “It’s awesome we’re able to have educational opportunities in our region for a lot of students who are disadvantaged,” he says. “I think Hispanic students have a lot to offer to our institution and we should embrace them and recognize that they’re the fastest growing population in the country.”
This piece is part of a series WNMU produced in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month and Hispanic Serving Institution Week.