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Latinx students express concerns to VP of student affairs

Last updated on January 27, 2021

Patty Perillo, student affairs vice president at the University of Maryland, held a virtual town-hall meeting in December with Latinx student leaders and faculty to discuss the concerns about inclusivity on campus. 

After listening to the concerns raised by students and faculty alike, Perillo expressed her willingness to dedicate her time and energy to addressing the concerns.

“I do have the ability to use my positional power to make a difference,” Perillo said.

She plans to report back to President Pines and continue meeting with Latinx student leaders to work on their plans to promote change, bringing the Latinx community together and creating a safer and more accepting campus.

At the beginning of the meeting, Valeria Morales, the graduate coordinator of Latinx Student Involvement at the Multicultural Involvement Community Advocacy office, suggested the university hire a full time coordinator for Latinx student affairs. As it stands now, graduate students take on the position as part-time coordinators, but the job is demanding on students, Morales said.

“I can only do so many things 20 hours a week, plus my schoolwork,” Morales explained. 

Other student leaders like Liz Castillo, the president of Latin Dance Club, offered the idea of building a resource center or “some kind of administrative body to centralize the Latinx community,” Castillo suggested. 

A community center for Latinx students can help those students find resources and connect with other Latinx students, further unifying the community, Castillo explained. 

Demands surrounding the creation of building a Latinx community center, however, span back over four years ago. In 2016, Protect UMD, a student coalition composed of several student groups, announced 65 demands meant to better serve marginalized groups of students on campus.

A large part of the Latinx community at the university are commuters, but living on campus can help students join clubs, make friends, and network with others with similar career aspirations or interests. One way the university attempts to bring students together is through living and learning communities, but PLUMAS president, Amy Rivera, said those communities can incite a space for hate crimes. 

“Students of color who live on campus face very different experiences, both in good ways and bad ways,” Rivera said, adding that students who live in those communities and face hate crimes may become discouraged and possibly withdraw or transfer from the university completely. 

Ana Patricia Rodriguez, an associate professor in the U.S. Latino/a Studies Program, explained that providing Latinx students with more opportunities for scholarships to live on campus and “supporting them” can create a welcoming environment for these students –– keeping retention rates high while also encouraging other Latinx students to enroll at the university. 

Another issue with the Latinx community is the low enrollment rate, Rodriguez added. When she became a professor in 1998, the student population was 7.9 percent Hispanic or Latino. Twenty years later, the rate remains around 8 and 9 percent. Rodriguez said she feels that her and her colleagues’ work towards addressing these issues have gone unnoticed as the university  doesn’t have a strong commitment to the Latinx community.

Nancy Mirabal, another professor of U.S. Latinx Studies, also expressed her thoughts on the matter, adding that more institutional support in expanding the U.S. Latinx Studies program would be beneficial for the Latinx community.  

“This is something that is not new. I guess what is exhausting is that every year, we’re not getting through it,” Mirabal said. 

The program, which was created in part of student activism, is only run by a few professors. With more support from the university such as hiring more professors, more students would be able to take Latinx Studies classes. The programs can use additional resources to create a stronger community throughout campus as well as the neighborhoods surrounding UMD.

“USLT does a lot for the community and we don’t get the financial support to do so”, Mirabal said.

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