Kimberly Lerma is a communication senior and public relations officer for the Council for Minority Student Affairs, a student-led organization that aims to create awareness, provide resources and take action to empower the immigrant community. The organization has also been part of the effort to establish a Latinx Center at Texas A&M.
As Texas A&M approaches the 25 percent threshold to become a Hispanic Serving Institution, the steps taken to accommodate this population must involve a shift from merely enrolling Latinx to serving them.
“Hispanic Serving” has to be more than just a quota. It should be about using funds provided as a direct aid to improve the all-encompassing college experience for the Latinx community on this campus. It should be about not only enhancing available education for this population but also about providing social support to foster a home away from home for Latinx students.
This is why the TAMU Latinx Unity Commission was created. Together with other prominent Latinx student organizations on campus, TAMU LUC is advocating for an on-campus Latinx Center, a space that would exemplify what it means to be Latinx-serving.
As student demographics have changed, so too have students’ needs. What worked for the Latinx community 10 years ago on this campus doesn’t work for the growing population it is today.
Sociology Ph.D. candidate and TAMU LUC board member Cindy Barahona said it’s not just about the number of resources, but the quality that is lacking in connecting Latinx students to the culture.
“You could list a thousand programs geared towards the Latinx population, but why are students still feeling like they do not belong in this campus?” Barahoma said. “Why are they still dropping out? Why is it not nurturing the sense of belonging? It’s something the administration fails to see and something that is highlighted in our petition as well.”
While there are a plethora of students resources for the Latinx population on campus, what would be unique about the Latinx Center are the three main pillars it is set out to cultivate: academic opportunities, cultural exploration and student support.
Increased recruitment, retention and graduation among Latinx and other minority students would be a direct academic result of a Latinx Center. This is a key academic goal for A&M as an HSI. If prospective students of color visit this campus and see a physical space created for people like them to thrive, then the Latinx space would encourage students to consider attending A&M.
Whether it be participating in research or being motivated to start their own, just the opportunity for students to be inspired and exposed to others in their community in a designated place where they feel like they belong would make the most significant difference in their academic endeavors.
There is a power difference that currently exists in campus spaces; a Latinx center would bring together faculty and students to encourage community and conversation beyond the classroom.
According to Barahona it would develop meaningful connections among current students, faculty and staff, alumni and community partners focused on positive student learning, while establishing an inclusive community.
When it comes to cultural exploration, it’s essential to acknowledge that this pillar is about a lot more than just cultural awareness.
“The Latinx culture is not just about drinking cafe Abuelita that is representative of a Latinx ethnicity [Mexican], but it’s so much deeper than that,” Barahona said.
Annual events on campus where cultures are displayed on poster boards and talked about by organizations have good intentions, but the Latinx center would be able to dive deeper.
Cultural exploration in the Latinx Center would entail depth and dimension. It's a continuous effort to understand the complexities of the various ethnicities within the Latinx community itself, and it involves constant engagement. Through this process, students would gain an opportunity to explore their own identity and nurture an atmosphere of inclusion.
Student support comes in all shapes and forms. It’s in no way a one-dimensional measure. According to feedback from the petition, which received over 2,500 responses, many students felt the Latinx center would provide “a community in which they feel like they belong.’’
This pillar would remind students that they’re not alone. It would intend to offer access to timely information and emotional support to help students cope with stress, fear and anxiety, from people who understand the complexity of being a minority student on a white majority campus. Additionally, it would aim to include the means to help all DACA recipients, TPS or undocumented students that would feel more comfortable in such a space.
For whatever reason any student decides to step into the Latinx center, whether they are trying to find guidance or community, interested in expanding their career or research opportunities as a Latinx student, or as a non-latinx student who is interested in learning more about the culture, TAMU LCU would encourage and welcome everyone to the Latinx Center.
Resources, connections, understanding and empathy would be provided unlike anything else on campus. It would demonstrate an appreciation for cultural differences.
The Latinx Center is vital at A&M as the the Latinx population enrolling in postsecondary education continues to grow. The Latinx Center would reflect the university’s institutional identity. Without it, there is no shared understanding or way to evaluate how well A&M is “serving” the Latinx student population or attempting to foster an inclusive environment.
This is an opportunity for the administration to listen to Latinx Aggies’ needs — to go that extra step and to tackle the issues still facing this community on campus. But it is only the first step.
If implemented, the Latinx Center will be an ever-evolving resource that grows and accommodates Latinx Aggies for generations to come.