For the second consecutive year, the University of Houston-Downtown is being recognized nationally as a leader in diversity, inclusion and academic achievement.

Once again, UHD has been named a recipient of the 2020 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award from INSIGHT into Diversity magazine, the largest and oldest diversity-focused publication in higher education.

UHD joins 90 honorees nationwide that were recognized for their outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion and academic success rates. UHD will be highlighted in INSIGHT into Diversity’s annual HEED Award issue to be published in November.

“Diversity and inclusion are deeply woven into the fabric of the University of Houston-Downtown,” said Antonio D. Tillis, Ph.D., UHD’s Interim President. “As a Hispanic Serving Institution and Minority Serving Institution, the University is a reflection of the very community it serves. It is indeed an honor to receive this award, and I applaud those students, faculty and staff who work hard every day to cultivate new programs and initiatives focused on enhancing our commitment to inclusiveness at every level.”

According to UHD Director of Diversity and Inclusion Dr. John Hudson, the goal of the university’s programs is to help others educate others about diverse and inclusive populations.

“Our programs have encouraged a climate of learning about others and also promoting awareness among our campus community,” he said. “The combination of some new programs and the continued growth of existing ones has made our efforts successful.”

New GatorLEADER Program Promotes Awareness

One initiative that has made a major impact in spreading awareness about diversity and inclusion is the GatorLEADER Diversity Leadership Program that is open to all students and staff. The program began in a face-to-face setting in January, then transitioned online in March. The course curriculum consists of core and elective workshops.

Upon completion of these courses, participants must write a capstone paper sharing their experiences and takeaways from the program.

Hudson noted that more than 300 students and staff have participated in the program and attended workshops since it began earlier this year.

“We are excited to see such a broad spectrum of interest,” he said. “Since the July 4 holiday, we have had a steady increase in participation. Given the demand for the program and the enthusiastic response, we plan to expand the program during the fall semester by increasing the number of required workshops and adding a number of new elective workshops.”

Continued Growth

Hudson said the Center for Critical Race Studies (CCRS) is continuing to grow and provide opportunities to build knowledge by serving the diverse cultures that form UHD’s student body.

CCRS is creating opportunities to build knowledge by bringing together the multiple identities and cultures that form UHD’s student body through the Minority Male Success Program and the Men of L.E.G.A.C.I. program. The purpose of these programs is to expose males of color to a variety of resources with the intent to promote academic, career and professional development of these students.

“Involvement in these programs has shown a steady increase and continues to provide great insight and learning opportunities for our UHD students,” Hudson said.

Gator Success Center Makes Difference

The Gator Success Center continues to help in the retention of students of all backgrounds completing their academic careers at UHD. The center provides assistance and opportunities for all freshmen and sophomores, so that they will excel in college and reach their full potential as independent learners through peer mentoring and academic coaching.

“Since the creation of the Gator Success Center, we have seen a high level of achievement among our First Time in College (FTIC) students,” Hudson said. “It has helped build the confidence of all students that have entered their doors. It is a wonderful thing to see.”

Investing in Students: Gator Pledge

Hudson said the Gator Pledge program has been essential in helping students of various socio-economic background see their dreams of earning a bachelor’s degree come true. The program helps incoming freshmen with family incomes of $50,000 or less by covering tuition and fees for up to four years.

“The Gator Pledge has made such a huge difference in the lives of our FTIC student populations,” he said. “Through the generosity of others, this aid has enabled students to focus on success and be free of financial worry.”

The Gator Pledge complements UHD’s status as the most affordable university in Houston and one of the most affordable in Texas. Additionally, the University is among the institutions with the lowest net price tuition in the nation according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education’s College Affordability and Transparency rankings.

“The Gator Pledge gives students greater access to higher education opportunities,” Hudson said.

Still Going Strong

When UHD sought to expand its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in 2018, the Center for Latino Studies was formed and serves as a vital program today.

The Center provides a socially-empowering curriculum for the existing Latino Studies concentration (part of the Bachelor of Arts in Humanities program). The Latinas Achieve and Emerging Scholars of Color programs are two primary initiatives designed to provide research and promising strategies designed to meet the needs of UHD’s diverse student body.

In addition, welcomed the announcement of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Inclusive Excellence Grant awarded to the College of Sciences and Technology for the UHD SynergIE Program. The program continues to foster capacity building for diversity, access, and inclusion through various faculty initiatives.

Other programs and activities highlighted in the award include UHD’s continued faculty development, and the university outreach and engagement.

“We take a detailed approach to reviewing each application in deciding who will be named a HEED recipient,” said Lenore Pearlstein, publisher of INSIGHT into Diversity magazine. “Our standards are high, and we look for institutions where diversity and inclusion are woven into the work being done every day across their campus.”