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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Labor Icon Dolores Huerta Speaks at Cal Poly's First HSI Symposium

Dolores Huerta stands behind a lectern on stage at Chumash Auditorium. The banner next to her says ¡Adelante!, which is the name of the symposium she spoke at.
Written By Gabby Ferreira | Photo by Joe Johnston

As she gazed out at a packed Chumash Auditorium, legendary labor organizer Dolores Huerta asked the audience to remember their common humanity, take care of each other, vote and remember their power.

“People that are affected by issues in their community, they have to learn and understand that they have the knowledge of how to solve their problems. They don't have to wait for somebody to come in from the outside and solve the problems for them,” she said. “This is what we have to do: is continue organizing people and let them know that they can make it happen.”

Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers alongside Cesar Chavez in the early 1960s, has fought ever since for economic justice for farmworkers, advocating for their rights and those of other marginalized groups. She coined the rallying cry, “Sí, se puede,” (Yes, we can), which can be heard to this day at protests, marches, rallies and other events.

Her speech was the closing keynote of ¡Adelante!, the inaugural Hispanic-Serving Institution Symposium: Pathway to Becoming an HSI, organized by the Office of University Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The symposium, held Oct. 17, featured a welcome address from President Jeffrey Armstrong, a panel discussion with Cal Poly’s HSI Task Force, a fair highlighting Latinx-centered resources on campus and afternoon workshops.

The title of the symposium, ¡Adelante!, means “forward” in Spanish, and that was the spirit of the day: honoring the past, celebrating the present and envisioning a future full of forward momentum and progress as Cal Poly strives to become an HSI.

An HSI designation is given to colleges and universities that have at least 25% Hispanic/Latinx/Latine enrollment and a significant population of Pell-eligible students. This designation brings additional funding opportunities that can be used to holistically support Latinx/e students throughout their college experience. About 27% of Cal Poly’s admitted students in 2023 identify as Latinx/e, according to OUDI.

In her welcoming remarks, Assistant Vice President of DEI Strategic Planning and Networks Beya Makekau noted that HSI is a federal designation that doesn’t give institutions guidelines on how to serve the community, stating that Cal Poly is seeking this designation “with purpose and on purpose.”

“We are operating with intentionality and asking, ‘How do we serve and empower?’” Interim Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Denise Isom said.

Following the welcome, members of Cal Poly’s HSI Task Force held a panel discussion about the process, the task force’s findings, and where Cal Poly goes from here.

Some of the topics discussed included the need for language diversity in programming and online resources to better serve Spanish-speaking families and supporters, greater representation of Latinx faculty, the transfer student experience, and HSI in STEM.

After Huerta’s keynote, Makekau joined her onstage for a facilitated conversation. Throughout the session, Makekau and Huerta spoke about what inspired Huerta’s sense of social justice, the power of people’s stories, how to ensure that Latinx voices have a seat at the table and what it means to be an HSI.

Near the end, Makekau asked Huerta about the role of love in social justice, noting that Huerta once told a group of community organizers she was training that you really have to love people to do this work.

“When we ask people to come out there and to do activist work, they’re giving up their time — like you did to come here today,” Huerta said. “The most precious resource we have is our time.”

She went on to say that activism not only builds up one person’s courage, but the courage of others.

“That’s a really great thing: to give up your time to go out there and make the world a better place, and that’s something all of us should do,” she said, adding that when she was striking with the United Farm Workers, the organizers survived with help from community members and supporters who donated food and clothes so they could keep going.

“If we help each other out, this is the way that we make each other strong.”

To further Cal Poly’s mission of becoming an HSI that thinks critically and holistically about serving the Latinx/e community, the Office of University Diversity and Inclusion announced the HSI High Impact Mini-Grant Program for AY23-24. This program is designed to support initiatives that advance our goals of "servingness" in all departments, colleges, and organizations across campus.

Applications are due November 30 and the application can be found here: