Sarita Brown attended The University of Texas at Austin in the 1970s, a time when the Armadillo World Headquarters helped establish Austin as a live music capital and bell-bottom pants rocked the fashion world. At this same time, Brown and many students at UT Austin, especially those who weren’t white, knew hardship and often felt like they didn’t belong.
Regardless of the challenges, Brown knew she needed a degree. Both her parents emphasized the importance of attending college. Her father, a Mexican immigrant, left school in the third grade, and her mother had only a high school diploma.
Brown pursued degrees in communication and ethnic studies. Her coursework brought her to a Chicano studies class that, she says, opened her eyes. Working with Américo Paredes, the founder of the Center for Mexican American Studies, Brown could see the parallels between figures from history and those in the present day who work to make a place for themselves. Shewent on to earn her master’s at UT and then worked for 15 years to diversify graduate education by building the Graduate Opportunity Program in the Office of Graduate Studies.
Decades after her time as a student, the university that Brown knew was by no means perfect, but it had changed for the better, and efforts to make UT a more welcoming place for its Hispanic population had grown and solidified. In fall 2020, UT Austin joined 13 other institutions that have earned the Seal of Excelencia, a certification by Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit co-founded by Brown, which honors a university’s commitment to serving the Latino student population.
“It’s not about being a Hispanic-enrolling institution,” says Rachelle Hernandez, senior vice provost for enrollment management and student success. “It’s about being a Hispanic-serving institution, and the construct for a Hispanic-serving institution is that by serving our Latinx or Hispanic students well, we’re serving all of our students well.”