The Hispanic Faculty/Staff Association (HFSA) is a campus-wide organization that has been making a positive impact on the university through advocacy, education and service. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we are spotlighting several HFSA members—all proud UT Austin grads—who are leading efforts to make their alma mater a more inclusive, equitable place for Hispanic/Latino faculty, staff and students. Read on to learn more about Jessica Silva’s good work with the organization and how she is uplifting communities on and off campus through various outreach initiatives—including big holiday fundraisers that benefit hundreds of children and their families every year.
Academic Advising Coordinator, College of Education
Role: Member, Book and Culture Committee, Holiday Assistance Program Committee
Years of membership: 14
Hometown: San Antonio,Texas/Monterey, Mexico
What are the benefits of being an HFSA member?
La comunidad! Community is everything. Some of my favorite people at UT are the people I have met through the HFSA. They are the ones I call on even outside of work. This wonderful group has provided me with so many impactful volunteer opportunities, guiding me in the direction of being a more giving person.
What activity do you look forward to the most every year?
That is hard! The John Treviño Holiday Assistance Program really touched my heart from the very beginning. We call out to the UT community to help us support UT families during the holidays by providing enough food for 300 to 400 families across campus.
Also the Book & Culture Committee started to adopt an entire grade level at Sanchez Elementary, one of the lowest SES [socioeconomic status] schools in Austin. The teachers get a list from the kids, we do the wrapping—while making tamales—and then one of our members dresses like Santa and brings bags of gifts to the classrooms.
Would you mind sharing a bit about your family background?
I was born in San Antonio, but I call Mexico my home; that’s where the majority of my family lives. While attending school in the U.S., I split my time between Texas and Mexico under the care of my grandparents and tías.
What cultural traditions do you look forward to celebrating each year?
I’m a big fan of Dia de los Muertos; there’s something so incredibly spiritual and fascinating about celebrating those who have left us, the people who meant so much to me. Celebrating their lives is a way to introduce our kids to that family. Every year, we create an alter for them, and in the years before COVID, we made it a tradition to have our alter at the Mexican American Cultural Center. It was so great to see our oldest talking to people walking by and sharing stories about their family even though they never had the privilege of meeting them in person.
What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
As a first-gen American raising children in this country, I strive to keep them mindful of their heritage year-round, so this awareness month isn’t something we specifically celebrate. During the months of October and September, we’re already prepping for Dia de los Muertos, and we’re talking about Mexican Independence Day because it’s tied to our activities.
What message would you like to give to your fellow UT faculty and staff members who identify as Hispanic or Latino/a?
I would tell them to come join us and be a part of a great group of people who give back to the community at UT and Austin. As a Latino or Hispano, it’s important to actively participate in the community. I love how HFSA fosters this mindset and how members are encouraged to play a big role in community service.
What challenges have you faced as a Hispanic staff member in higher education?
The biggest challenge for me is representation. It is helpful having people on campus who look like me and understand my background and culture. Thankfully, HFSA has provided that support network for me and, in turn, I have learned how to better support my students. I think it’s important to support one another and say, “Yes, this is hard, but I’ve been there and am here to help you overcome this.” We need better representation in schools and colleges so that we can help each other through challenges. My mentor once tole me, “While this place wasn’t made for us, we are here now so our voices need to be heard.” I believe the HFSA community is always working to make that happen.