The Latinx community at UConn is supported by a number of different entities, all of them working closer than ever to provide one solid support network.
El Instituto is UConn’s multidisciplinary Latin American research and teaching institute, with a deep commitment to service in the community and to state and national governments. The Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC) provides a second home for Latinx students on the Storrs campus while La Comunidad Intelectual (LCI) is a living/learning community with a mission to nurture a sense of community and welcoming space for Latinx students and those interested in the issues that affect the Latin American and Caribbean communities.
“Our Latinx students, many of the being first-generation college students, bring a lot of responsibilities to campus in that many of them have already had to provide for their families,” says Fany Hanon, the director of PRLACC. “But, in my opinion, of the things that they bring to the table over the years is their cultural wealth – the languages they speak, their social capital. They are bringing a lot to this university and that is what we focus on with them. We want everyone to see that our Latinx students do not come with a deficit model, but a cultural wealth model.”
UConn’s Latinx community is particularly in the spotlight now with the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15.
Peer support is an important part of that experience, through mentorship of new students by upperclassmen.
“One of the weaknesses our students have is realizing what strength they bring,” says Sam Martinez, the director of El Instituto and a professor of anthropology. “They internalize their Latino heritage as a deficit, while it is really a caring asset.
“The Latino cultural center during my own college experience was a great source of inspiration and common purpose for me. That is the legacy we seek to pass on to every generation of students that come to UConn. We are raising our students’ awareness that they are coming to UConn with a cultural heritage and a linguistic diversity that is a major addition to America’s cultural wealth. Of course, PRLACC is open to everybody. It doesn’t matter what your background is. If you have a passion for learning about Latino culture, history, and heritage, it’s the place to go.”
As part of the recognition of the month, a number of videos have been created to document the Latinx experience at UConn.
“We have built this program from very humble beginnings into a program that brings hundreds of students together,” says Martinez. “Those Huskies who are further along on their road can provide peer mentoring to new students who are coming in to find their way around this challenging institution – both in terms of sheer size, its range of opportunities and a certain range of assumptions that exist as a predominantly white institution.”
Martinez points to the example of unpaid summer internships that present a different challenge for Latinx students as opposed to some of their white counterparts.
“Some students can just take it for granted that their parents will pay their expenses during the summer,” says Martinez. “It’s something that cuts across lines of ethnicity and we are working with the academic administration and the UConn Foundation to level the playing field so that every student gets the opportunities that many wealthier students just take for granted.”
The faculty director of LCI is Kenny Nienhusser, an associate professor in the Neag School of Education. LCI is a learning community made up of 38 students, most of them in their first year or having transferred from a regional campus.
“We want to empower the students to see the tremendous strengths they bring as member of the UConn community,” says Nienhusser. “They want a space on campus where they can reside on the same floor with people that understand them and provide them with the support they are looking for. It’s really a beautiful learning community that is a vibrant hub of happenings in the evenings and in the day when we have our seminar classes.”
A number of campus events are being held in conjunction with National Hispanic Heritage Month, highlighted by a new colloquium series between UConn and the University of Puerto Rico. The online series is run by El Instituto at UConn with Centro de Recursos de Investigación Interdisciplinaria y Aprendizaje Subgraduado at UPR.
The next and final event in the series will be a roundtable discussion featuring former UPR and UConn graduate students entitled “Finding Your Way to/through Doctoral Programs at Mainland Universities.” The talk will talk place on Wednesday, Oct. 13 at 6 p.m. and will be held in Spanish.