Opposites may attract, but similarities create lifelong bonds. For Student Diversity Programs and Services, both of these ideas are essential to building community on campus.
El Centro, the Latinx diversity office at Colorado State University, aims to support Latinx students and introduce the broader campus to the complexities and intersectionalities of Latin American cultures.
“We want to provide a space that’s welcoming and supportive,” said Michelle Cadena, assistant director of El Centro. “(We want students to) feel connected, supported and that they have people here that have invested in their education beyond just their academics.”
Identity can become incredibly complex. Almost no one solely identifies with one group, so finding individuals who share parts of a complex identity is important for students as they seek to be understood and find welcoming spaces on campus.
“Finding community is really important at El Centro because part of it is we are just more intersectional, and we don’t just focus on one identity; we focus on the complexity of who each of our students are,” said LM Martinez, El Centro’s RamEvents liaison.
Sept. 15 kicks off National Hispanic Heritage Month, also known as Latinx Heritage Month. To celebrate, El Centro will host a series of events meant to showcase the joy in the community, demonstrate activism and welcome new students to the diversity center. This is also the first time these events will be held fully in person since the pandemic.
“I think it gives a different energy having people on campus,” Cadena said. “We’re really excited to see the engagement of our community.”
“For us, it’s always making sure we highlight the different intersectionalities of identities in our community.” – Michelle Cadena, El Centro assistant director
For many students, approaching these bigger events and organizations can be intimidating, but there’s no pressure to rush into a community organization.
“Just take a deep breath, and come into El Centro on your own terms,” Martinez said. “We’re always going to be here.”
El Centro provides students with access to parts of the community they otherwise may have not experienced. Martinez said they became invested in El Centro after seeing Annie Segarra speak at an El Centro event in 2019.
“As a fellow queer, Latinx and disabled person,” Martinez said they didn’t realize there was a broader community of people like them.
“It literally made me cry,” Martinez said.
El Centro makes a big effort to balance celebration of identity and culture with activism and representation. They have shifted more toward really representing the intersectionalities in Latinx identities.
“We became a lot more intentional with diversity and inclusion,” Martinez said. “Yes, El Centro is Latinx, but we can’t just focus on Mexican-based identities; we have to focus on all Latin countries.”
This year’s events reflect the effort to celebrate the complexities of Latin cultures. With events including the Kick-Off at The Plaza from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sept. 15 and Salsa Nights Oct. 17-18, there’s no shortage of events to attend.
“For us, it’s always making sure we highlight the different intersectionalities of identities in our community,” Cadena said. “That’s the feedback we’ve heard from our students: They want to feel seen and feel validated.”
El Centro provides resources and strong community access for CSU’s Latinx community, but it extends beyond that. Cadena encouraged all students to participate in the events. Even if you aren’t part of the community, you can experience the joy and learning that will be showcased this month.
Reach Ivy Secrest at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @IvySecrest.