For Anita Gliniecki, president of Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, if her institution becomes a Hispanic Serving Entity, that means it could provide more services to every student — including Hispanics.
Gliniecki recently traveled to the White House to attend a Hispanic Heritage activity focusing on Initiatives on Hispanic Education. With a smile, she mentioned she had the opportunity to shake hands with President Obama.
The main requirement to win the federal recognition is to have a Hispanic-heritage student population of at least 25 percent.
Interviewed by the Fairfield County Independent, Gliniecki said that at present, HCC serves 24.9 percent students of Hispanics heritage. She agrees that to surpass the required percentage wouldn’t be difficult. HCC is located right at the heart of Bridgeport — the largest city in the state that houses the largest population of Hispanics in the state.
The institution’s existence goes back to 1966, when it began using offices in Stratford. After two years, it moved to the former Singer factory building on Barnum Avenue. Gliniecki, who started her career in Michigan, said she joined HCC in 2003. She moved all the way up the ladder. She began as a nursing faculty member, then became director of nursing, associate dean and became associate president in 2006. She was named president in 2007.
She said HCC’s commitment to diversity is on display by everyone at the institution — it’s not just on paper. She describes Housatonic as a welcoming, supportive institution for students.
“When we were at Barnum we had 2,200 students, but when we moved to the Lafayette Building in downtown, very quickly we reached 4,300 students,” said Glieniecki. Because of the increased amount of students, more space was needed, she said. In the fall of 2008, another building was constructed. It was called Bacon Hall. At the present, the college has 5,987 students.
The college follows federal guidelines regarding ethnicity, said Gliniecki. That means it is not required to ask for ethnicity. It’s considered a self-declaration, she said. Guidelines suggest asking whether students consider themselves Hispanic, which usually generates a yes or no answer. It’s up to the particular student to disclose his or her ethnicity.
“It’s all part of an initiative we are working on in partnership with the White House about Hispanics in education,” said Gliniecki. “The effort started in fall 2008. As part of the initiative we understood we have to do more outreach to the Hispanic population so they understand the availability of education and the support systems.”
The college conducted three focus groups recently. Two of the recommendations that came out were that the college needs to put out more information in the community on the Dream Act — which is aimed at enabling children of immigrants to attend college — and to reach out more to the Portuguese-speaking community.
“If you see the Hispanic population in Bridgeport and surrounding towns, there should be no doubts we deserve to be an Hispanic Serving Institution,” said Gliniecki. If that status is granted the college, there is potential to obtain grants that will be utilized to support and provide outreach to students. She emphasizes that if the institution receives such grants, everybody benefit — not just the Hispanic students.
Gliniecki said that although to become a Hispanic Serving Institution it’s not necessary to have a determined percentage of Hispanic faculty, the goals of any educational organization should be to have diversity on campus.
At 35.8 percent, Caucasians are the largest population group at HCC, followed by African-Americans at 28.5 percent, Hispanics at 24.9 percent, and Asians at 3.3, Other/No response at 7.5. The total population consists of 62.9 percent women and 37.1 percent men.
Gliniecki will be looking into developing a plan to implement the focus group recommendations and getting more information to the community about the Dream Act, using Hispanic-language newspapers and radio stations.
Gary A. Kecskés, dean of community outreach, said, “We are anxious to become a Hispanic Serving Institution. Our outreach division has implemented an initiative to reach the Hispanic population.”
Kecskés said that a survey was conducted to identify where Hispanics are concentrated in the area. It revealed that areas included under Zip codes 06604, 06608, 06610 and 06607 were the sectors with the highest concentration. He said the amount of households identifying themselves as being of Hispanics descent in Zip code 06608 was 83 percent.
Chris Soler, president of the Association of Latin-American Students (ALAS), who was born in Puerto Rico, was one of the participants in the focus group. He said he is happy with the courses he is taking — and he believes the college should have no problem obtaining the Hispanic Serving Institution status. He added that with more community outreach, HCC should enroll many more Hispanics students.
“The demographics suggest the Hispanic population is increasing in this area,” said Dr. Avis Hendrickson, dean of students. She was in charge of organizing the focus group. “President Anita Gliniecki has displayed leadership in pursuing new programs,” she said. “For instance, Gliniecki was able to successfully open and get funds for a men’s center. She has provides the leadership to implement programs. If we get the certification of Hispanics Serving Institution, it can be of great service to the students.”
Hendrickson said the focus group for the students was held on Wednesday, Sept. 28, the one for the faculty and staff was held on Thursday, Sept. 29, and the one for the community on Oct. 5. In each group there was an HCC representative and a recorder and a coordinator. All of them are bilingual, so any of the people participating could respond in either language.
Although at the time of the interview, a complete a list of the recommendations made by the focus groups was not available, many of them were expected to be implemented by the spring semester.