The UNC Latinx Education Research Hub brought the idea of spatial justice to life for third-year education Ph.D. student Lucia Mock. It was there she found a community and a refuge on campus.
This year, the Hub planned to continue their research and hold xarlas, or chats, centered around different issues facing the community, including Silent Sam, the family separation crisis and fitting into a predominantly white university. However, the University took away the Hub’s former space in UNC's School of Education in mid-July. UNC informed members that they needed to remove their belongings and that the space would be used as part of an IT office, creating concern from students and faculty alike that the University had taken away a space for a marginalized community.
“I was shocked, but then not surprised because it's just in line with what our administration does,” Mock said. “They use a lot of language around social justice and equity, but at every turn they seem to undermine that with their actions. On a personal level, it was like having a really important element of my identity once again sort of deemed not worthy enough.”
On Monday, the University alerted Mock and others associated with the Hub that they would receive a temporary space in Peabody Hall. But for Mock and other members of the UNC community, questions as to why the University took the space away to begin with remain.
Jill Hamm, associate dean for research and faculty development in the School of Education, said that after the Hub’s former faculty director, Juan Carrillo, moved to another university, the Hub was in transition. Hamm said that while renovating Peabody Hall with a new graduate student research space, the School had to move its IT offices to the hallway where the Hub was previously located. She said many offices moved around because all spaces in Peabody are temporary.
“The idea of there being a permanent space for any initiative or any faculty, staff or student is not really the way we're able to operate just because we have so many demands on our building and just not that much space to work with,” Hamm said.
Mi Pueblo, another Latinx-based student organization, faced similar space issues last year. Senior Felipe Sanchez, the outdoor activities committee chairperson for Mi Pueblo, said his organization was working with the University to create a more autonomous space that they could decorate in the Carolina Latinx Collaborative. CLC is housed in Craige North Residence Hall where residents often study and other groups hold meetings.
“It's supposed to be our space, but it's more of just like a common space,” Sanchez said.
Mock said she believes the University gave the Hub temporary space in an attempt to placate members and avoid a public relations nightmare.
“It speaks to the larger battle of, at every turn it seems like Latinx groups and just marginalized groups and communities in general have to fight for anything and everything,” Mock said. “So now I think we're expected to say, 'Oh, thank you so much School of Education for giving us a tiny space after you already took it away,' and that's not how it should be.”
Mi Pueblo has also felt the effects of losing space on campus. Sanchez said the office space the organization previously held in the Student Union was taken away last year and transformed into a Greek life area. Now the group only possesses a locker in the Student Union.
“(The University) needs to show that they appreciate all the groups at UNC, and the Latinx community is one of them,” Sanchez said. “Talk is talk. We'd love to see action, real steps.”
Although Mock is still concerned that the Hub was only provided a temporary space for this semester, Hamm said the new space will be roughly the same size on a different floor. Hamm said the School of Education is exploring other Latinx initiatives that could create a greater space for the Hub beyond this semester.
“That message about it being temporary was more to communicate, 'I know that I can have you in this space for the semester,'” Hamm said. “It could change as we pursue these other discussions, and it may make sense that we need a different space. There's potential for a better space to accommodate. It isn't that the space will be taken away. It's more that it might not be that same space over time.”
But Mock said with a growing Latinx population in North Carolina, the Hub’s fight is not over until they have a permanent space and are no longer at the mercy of the University’s whims.
“Until then, we're going to keep on fighting, and we're going to make sure that our voices are heard,” Mock said. “Of course, I'm really happy and thankful for them making the effort to understand that the space is important, but this isn't the end. There's a long way to go still.”
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