Latinx Students Petition for Community Space on Campus

Courtesy of Loyola University Chicago

In a bid to prove there’s student support to create a community space on campus dedicated to Latinx identifying students, senior Ana Avendano started a petition.

Avendano, a 21-year-old studying political science, said she envisions a space where all Latinx — the gender neutral term used in place of Latino or Latina — students at Loyola, regardless of whether or not they’re in a certain club, can meet people who come from similar backgrounds. She said she thinks it could especially help incoming students who come from predominantly mixed-raced high schools.

“I think it would give us a really good space to organize … to present events that are focused on issues that are very pertaining to us and our community and our political issues,” Avendano said.

Avendano said she met with Dean of Students Will Rodriguez over winter break to let him know who was involved in starting the petition and what exactly it was going to be for.

“He was really helpful in trying to get us to see other people we could reach out to, to get Latinx groups together, and we just had a discussion about what we wanted, and how we were going to plan on putting this petition together,” Avendano said.

Avendano said he told her there wasn’t space available in the Damen Student Center.

In a statement to The Phoenix from university spokesperson Evangeline Politis on behalf of Rodriguez, she said he thinks community spaces for students help build connections and support their successes, though he noted the university faces some difficulties in securing a space.

“We are challenged by the lack of available space on campus and the many competing needs for more office, programming, and study places,” Rodriguez said. “The petition will help gauge the support of the broader Loyola community for such a space.”

Although Avendano is the internal vice president of Alpha Psi Lambda — Loyola’s co-educational Latino fraternity — she said the community space wouldn’t be affiliated with any particular organization, but rather open to all Latinx students. If the room was officially dedicated the Latinx community, it wouldn’t be considered an open room and therefore wouldn’t be open to be reserved by other organizations, according to Avendano.

Avendano said she imagines a space similar to one already on campus for members of the Black Cultural Center (BCC) — an organization on campus whose mission is to promote unity in the black community — located in room 113 in the Damen Student Center. Members of BCC can hold meetings, programs and other activities within the space on campus.

Avendano said this proposed room would be different from the resource room — a room for students to hang out and do homework in the office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs (SDMA) — because it would be specifically catered to Latinx students and their issues and identities, whereas SDMA is broader.

“I feel like there is a need for a specific space just because you can’t throw every identity into one room and say, ‘Diversity,’” Avendano said. “I think especially with our political climate and with the issues that Latinx identifying people face, we do need a space that’s specific for us.”

In fall 2017, Latinx students made up 16.7 percent of total undergraduate students, according to Loyola’s enrollment statistics.

Dr. Christian Paredes is a professor in Loyola’s sociology department who specializes in Latin-American studies. He said he believes it’s important for people who share specific cultural characteristics to be able to organize themselves.

“I think it is important that [the Latinx community] show other people they exist,” Paredes said. “And [it’s also important] that they are able to keep strength in their own cultural ties in order to develop that pride that also contributes to how we understand diversity, especially in a context where we all need to be welcomed.”

Paredes said he thinks a community space would be particularly beneficial for first-generation Latinx students who might be struggling to navigate life at a university.

Avendano said Lambda Theta Alpha (LTA) — Loyola’s Latina sorority — and the Latin-American Student Organization (LASO) are in collaboration with starting the petition, along with a couple other student organizations such as the Puerto Rican Student Association (PRSA) and the International Socialist Organization (ISO).

Giselle Milla, a junior studying biology, is the president of both LTA and LASO. The 21-year-old said she hopes a dedicated space on campus would unify the Latinx community, which she said she feels is sometimes very separate since there are so many different Latinx organizations.

“We’re not yet a unified community, and that’s what we’re looking for, to have a space where even if you are from different organizations, you can still come to this safe space, and can talk to each other and get to know each other, building relationships and networks,” Milla said.

Kasi Woods, a sophomore studying English and sociology, is the president of ISO. She said in a statement to The Phoenix she supports any initiative that would make Latinx students on campus feel safer and more comfortable.

“A space solely dedicated to creating a strong Latinx community here on campus will not only benefit current students, but will also help future students feel more protected and supported,” the 20-year-old said.

Andrea Cartagena, a sophomore, is the president of PRSA. The 19-year-old said she supports the creation of a Latinx community room on campus because it will serve as a safe space.

“It will [also] encourage the development of relationships between other groups on campus,” the biology major said.

Avendano said the goal for the petition is 1,000 signatures from students, and there are currently a little more than 400.

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