CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated when the Undergraduate Senate passed a unanimous Resolution of Support for a new Latinx center. The resolution passed in January 2018. The story has been updated with the correct date. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.
More than a decade of advocacy by UNC students, faculty, staff and graduates culminated as the UNC Board of Trustees approved the creation of the Carolina Latinx Center.
Josmell Perez, co-director of the Carolina Latinx Collaborative and a co-author of the proposal request for the Center, said that it will not only serve as a communal space for Latinx students, but also a hub to build on pre-existing initiatives and to create new programs.
“It’s not only solely focused on students,” Perez said. “It’s an opportunity for scholarship and opportunity to collaborate on research, the opportunity to engage the community at large, the opportunity to reach out and work with alums. The Center is classified as a public service or instructional center, with four areas of focus: community, service, scholarship and engagement, really working with existing initiatives and programs here at UNC. To me, the opportunities are sort of endless at this point, so it’s just exciting.”
Members of the UNC community have long felt the need for a center focused on Latinx initiatives, citing the growing Latinx population at UNC. UNC’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment states that the current Hispanic population at UNC is 8.5 percent for undergraduate students and 6.8 percent for graduate students, up from approximately 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively, in 2007.
“The growing number of Latinx students and professors on campus definitely pointed to, for me, a center like this, a center that can bridge between students, faculty and staff and the community at large,” said Paul Cuadros, a professor in the School of Media and Journalism and a co-author of the request for the Center’s approval. “We’re really ready to create something to take advantage of that energy and those resources and to really reach out and bridge to the rest of the Latinx community in North Carolina.”
The Collaborative is currently co-housed with Housing and Residential Education in the Craige North residence hall, which poses scheduling and accessibility challenges.
“It wasn’t our space – it was a shared space. We only had access to it, probably, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” said Michael Sosa, a junior studying exercise and sports science and the president of Mi Pueblo UNC, one of the largest Latinx-based organizations at UNC. “If we wanted to have a meeting later, we needed to get buzzed in by somebody who actually lived at Craige North, so it was really frustrating for us."
Sosa said the Collaborative also was unable to decorate the space in Craige North as desired.
"There’s some artwork that really shows our diversity, but we didn’t feel at home," Sosa said. "There were a lot of bare walls, just white walls everywhere. We had great ideas to design everything, but we didn’t have the resources or the capabilities or authorization to decorate the walls.”
For many involved, an independent space dedicated to Latinx initiatives has been a long journey. Theresa Flores, a master of social work candidate at UNC and a member of the UNC class of 2013, was one of the Carolina Latinx Collaborative’s first hires when it opened in 2010.
“The push for a Latinx Center on campus has been close to 11 to 12 years in the making,” Flores said. “The initial compromise that the University came to was that they weren’t in a place where the full center could be approved, but a collaborative was something that was an in-between step.”
A combination of factors kept the Center from coming to fruition for more than a decade, despite continued student protest and advocacy, such as the Estamos Aquí UNC movement, which brought forward a proposal for a Latinx center.
However, with a push last semester from students like Sosa and Madison Knowles, a senior majoring in Latin American studies, the Center seemed to be in reach. A forum on the future of a Latinx space on campus was held by Mi Pueblo and the undergraduate executive branch of student government's Multicultural Affairs & Diversity Outreach committee and the continued advocacy of Perez, Cuadros and many other members of the UNC community.
Finally, in January, the stars aligned as the Undergraduate Senate passed a unanimous Resolution of Support for a new Latinx center just as the UNC American Indian Center moved out of Abernethy Hall, leaving an open space. Later that month, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bob Blouin brought a proposal for the Center to the Board of Trustees, which approved the Carolina Latinx Center.
“It’s been a long and arduous process to get approval for the center, and while that has been a challenge for us, we’ve been able to achieve our goal and establish our center, and right now we want to focus on what’s to come,” Cuadros said. “The process, that’s in the past for us, because we’ve been approved.”
The Center’s approval has brought many members of the UNC Latinx community a sense of excitement, joy and belonging.
“I think it means not only recognition, but a fully welcoming entree to the campus,” Perez said. “As an alum, it means that we’re finally recognizing and institutionalizing and putting institutional support and dollars into a community that has not only been here for a long long time, but is growing and expanding.”
Daniel Gomez, a first-year and a member of MADO, said the Center demonstrates the University’s support of Latinx students.
“It’s really welcoming,” Gomez said. “The next incoming class will have a Latinx center from the very beginning and I’ll have it for the next three years, and it’s because of all of the alumni who fought for this, and it really shows that UNC has stepped up and cares about Latinx students.”
For Flores, the Center is the end of one chapter and the start of another.
“It almost feels surreal to me because it feels like we’ve been fighting for this for so long,” Flores said. “I’m so excited for incoming classes to get here so they can recognize that they have a center on campus for them. I have all of the feelings and all of the emotions around this, because it’s finally happening.”
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