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El Centro promotes diversity on CSU campus

Social discrimination is still being fought in the 21st century, and it is important to find a community to identify with.

El Centro provides Latino and Latina students a community and safe space at Colorado State University.

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“Our mission is to promote an all-inclusive office that is welcoming to all,” said Brandy Ortiz, the program coordinator at El Centro. “However, we do have a focus on the success and retention of Latino and Latina students. We do that by providing leadership opportunities, workshops and a safe space for them to call home.”

El Centro stemmed from PROJECT GO in 1969, an effort to reach ethnically diverse students from all backgrounds. It was created to serve under-represented students at CSU because they noticed students who identified as ethnically diverse were dropping out within their first few years and not graduating, according to Ortiz.

Ten years later in 1979, PROJECT GO broke off into five offices known as the Group Advocacy Program. In 2009 it changed it’s name to Student Diversity Programs and Services (SDPS) to signify unity between the seven diversity offices: El Centro, Black/African American Cultural CenterNative American Cultural Center, Asian/Pacific American Cultural Center, Women and Gender Advocacy Center, Resources for Disabled Students and GLBTQQA*. However, the name change did not change El Centro’s mission to welcome and support the diverse community at CSU.

Faculty and Fort Collins community members gathered in the North Ballroom to celebrate César Chávez's birthday and enjoy several performances including music and dancing. (Photo credit: Cisco Mora)
Faculty and Fort Collins community members gathered in the North Ballroom to celebrate César Chávez’s birthday and enjoy several performances including music and dancing. (Photo credit: Cisco Mora)

Tuesday night, students, faculty and Fort Collins community members gathered in the Lory Student Center North Ballroom to celebrate César Chávez’s birthday, and honor the impact he and Dolores Huerta had on farming labor conditions. This was a part of the annual César Chávez celebration at CSU. This year’s event, called “Valuing wisdom through knowledge and experience,” will be held until April 3.

Among attendees were Colleen Conrad and Megan Baker, teachers at Poudre High School. They both said Chávez’s impact on the country is relevant to the Latino community today, especially for their students.

“For our hispanic students, (Chávez) set up really amazingly high standards for community activism, for learning about one’s rights and finding a voice and especially finding a voice through community,” Conrad said. “The Latino community in Fort Collins is vibrant and strong, and any support we can give to our students at Poudre to say ‘your culture is important’ (is necessary).”

Megan Baker, a social studies teacher at Poudre High School, was involved with CSU Upward Bound in the 1980s and has been connected to El Centro since.

“For decades there have been really important leaders here being role models for our high school students and being role models for CSU underclassmen to show how far they can go when mainstream society doesn’t support them because of their status,” Baker said. “El Centro is huge in giving our students a place to belong, and to feel like they belong at the university when they’re not the majority population, and to have that support is so important.”

Nohely Miranda, a junior psychology and Spanish major, is a resource academic mentor at El Centro. According to Miranda, César Chàvez’s fight for equal rights in the 1960s and 70s is similar to today’s fight for social justice.

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“It’s about making sure that every different race or group is getting the equal rights that they deserve,” Miranda said. “Back then it was farm works, but today it could be something like sexual discrimination.”

Miranda, who works with first year students, said she thinks the offices promoting diversity on campus are important.

“We encourage them to come to our events, and we host events to keep them aware and in the loop of everything our office does,” Miranda said. “There is more to diversity than just race.”

Collegian reporter Zara DeGroot can be reached at news@collegian.com, or on Twitter @zar_degroot.

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