By Christina Acevedo
The creation of a Latinx Resource Center (LRC) at UCI has been pushed for since 2017 by the student organization Mesa Unida. Following its approval, the group’s work has shifted towards acquiring the necessary resources needed to make the center a valuable asset for students.
“This center is going to be a home, a safe space, a brave space not only for students but for their families,” said Teresa Gaspar, Co-President of Mesa Unida. Gaspar leads the student organization with Ace Anaya.
Efforts towards establishing the LRC began with a class that was offered through the Cross Cultural Center last year. For those involved in the class, one of the primary end goals was to come up with a resource center proposal.
Now, both a proposal and petition have been formed, the latter of which is still being circulated among faculty, alumni and current students to acquire feedback about what the LRC should offer.
“In Mesa Unida we noticed the UCI population was identifying more as Latinx until we… became an HSI [Hispanic-Serving Institution],” Gaspar explained. “We were like okay, we’re an HSI but is UCI actually doing things to uplift our community and make sure that it’s retaining its students and making them feel like they can connect and get empowered here and excel personally, academically and professionally?”
Since the Spring quarter of 2017, UCI has held a title as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. According to the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, as an HSI that qualifies for extra funding, this would mean that a minimum of 50 percent of UCI’s students get federal financial aid and a minimum of 25 percent of the university’s undergraduate student body is Hispanic.
Because of this designation, UCI is able to obtain additional grants.
“Now that we’re an HSI, we know that we can apply for grants, so we want to make sure when we do apply for those grants, that money is actually going to students,” director of organizations for Mesa Unida, Clara Leopo said.
Leopo and Gaspar see the LRC as one of the ways that they can hold the administration accountable for the allocation of such funds.
Some resources that the center is looking to provide are those relating to emotional well-being, academics, scholarships, community outreach and mentorship for processes such as applying to graduate school.
At the moment, Mesa Unida is focused on trying to gather input from different Latinx organizations and students to help ensure that the center is inclusive. Some members of Mesa Unida have also demonstrated concern for undocumented students and are interested in finding out how to help retain those students as well as provide them with job opportunities.
To gain a sense of what students would like to see at the LRC as well as to maintain transparency, a LRC committee that meets to discuss the center has been formed.
“I think we’re all just trying to work towards the same goal. I think we’re just glad that we’re part of that committee just so we can make sure that we’re able to bring in students’ voices because I think we know that we don’t represent all of them,” Gaspar said.
Currently, the center has been allocated $200,000 to use and its expected location is the fourth floor of the Student Center.
Students’ main focus right now is deciding an opening date and guaranteeing that when the center opens, it will be of great use to UCI’s Latinx students.
For these reasons, there does not appear to be a large rush in opening the center before it is ready. Some involved in its establishment have indicated that they want it to be something they’re proud of.
“We wouldn’t want to open it so quickly and not have all the resources that it should have. We want to make sure it’s ready to operate,” Leopo said.
Fortunately, the center has received a large amount of positive support from administration, professors, students and alumni. Even during the initial planning stage, former Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Thomas A. Parham expressed openness to the idea, urging students to gather proof that they would like an LRC.
Leopo and Gaspar have indicated that while there has been the desire to provide assistance for UCI’s Latinx students, most of the differences in opinion have centered around logistics with regards to timing and planning.
Aware of the resources that UCI already offers its students, Leopo and Gaspar are hoping to help give students more access to the centers and the resources they provide.
“We wanted to have this center and we still do because we find it necessary, especially now that we’re an HSI,” Leopo said.
In the future, UCI has expressed a desire to amend certain existing disparities and make UCI a better campus for its Latinx students. Some of the ways it intends to do so is through enrolling more Latinx graduate students, mentoring programs and growing the amount of Latinx faculty.
For Leopo and Gaspar, the LRC holds the potential to begin to address some of these issues and more effectively help Latinx students as well.
photo courtesy of Mesa Unida web page