qualitative approaches

HSIs continue to evaluate their effectiveness as ‘Hispanic-serving’ based on white hegemonic standards set by the field through normative, mimetic, and coercive pressures, with little regard for the unique needs and experiences of Latinx students.
- Gina Ann Garcia

For several years, I worked as a qualitative research at a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in McAllen, Texas. During this time, my attachment to qualitative approaches grew stronger. Furthermore, I noticed the importance of it in rhet-comp and post-secondary education more generally. In Becoming Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Gina Ann Garcia claims, “the entire system of higher education is stratified by race.” And I believe it.

I don't mean to undermine the ways in which specific HSIs construct their own movidas (as Luis Urrieta Jr. might call it). However, it's difficult to overcome whiteness when external entities set metrics to assess institutional effectiveness. For example, should HSIs keep track of bilingual and multilingual presence at the institution so as to have data to make decisions on language matters? At the moment, I have not seen an institution that offers this specific metric. If they did have that information and realized more than half the students speak languages other than/or in addition to English, would institutional change transpire?

While they seem less prevalent in statewide institutional research that feeds into accreditation and other institutional measures, qualitative approaches engage and capture practices that go beyond external metrics. It's a way to center students, instructors, and administrators at these institutions. Mel Michelle Lewis writes:

My feminist qualitative inquiry methodology engages experience as evidence, the evidence of felt intuition, witnessing, testifying, and testimonio, and theory in the flesh. I do not seek verifiable or replicable "proof."

Qualitative research presents the possibility to capture and convey local stories and counternarratives. In fact, when institutions want to understand student perspectives, they typically seek a qualitative researcher to gather their experiences, which oftentimes can't be quantified (or perhaps ethically shouldn't). Lewis points toward these moments that do not require verifiability or replication, and I agree with Lewis. One of the greatest strength in a qualitative approach rests in its ability to capture a singular moment. The magnitude of this moment can inform theory and practice.

In essence, I firmly stand with qualitative approaches as a way to undercut "white hegemonic standards" and arrive at a more faithful rendition of the lived experiences of brown, black, and minoritized individuals. This approach doesn't imply that anyone can go in and conduct studies because ethics exist. Aside from ethics, qualitative approaches allow researchers to analyze information based on their own experiences, so they should foster investment and connections to the community at hand or erroneous (oftentimes, straight up imperialist) analyses will emerge.

notepad and backup recorder
my journals and recorder

projects at an hispanic-serving institution (HSI)


To increase communication between professors, staff, and students, the institution implemented a third-party software. Difficulties arose in establishing this software as a cultural practice, so I conducted in-depth interviews with users to understand the obstacles.


With furniture on wheels, whiteboards for groups, and technology for the instructors, the "active learning classroom" centers learning through collaborative work. I used focus groups with students and in-depth interviews with instructors to understand impact.


The institution created a portable and accessible tool, a color wheel, that would reinforce knowledge of departments and their respective areas of study for college students. Through prototype testing and focus group approach, I asssessed the functionality of the color wheel before launching it.

josé luis cano jr.