Latin American Student Association protests for celebration of diversity
Some LASA members feel UB doesn’t follow through on diversity efforts
Twenty-four students, including Latin American Student Association members, marched in the pouring rain Wednesday to demand UB celebrate its minority students.
Protesters began in the Student Union and made their way, with arms linked, through the academic spine to Capen Hall. They carried flags from Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Domincan Republic, El Salvador, Venezuela and others, while chanting “LASA, LASA” and “Hispanos unidos,” which translates to “united Hispanics.” Participants said the protest was in response to the university’s failure to acknowledge Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. As of 2018, 7.5% of students at UB are Hispanic, according to UB’s common data set.
Protestors called for UB to make specific changes because they felt individual SA clubs are the sole groups sharing their culture. They called for different activities and cultural demonstrations to educate others throughout the academic year.
Anthony Vargas, the president of LASA and whose mother is a first-generation immigrant, said the university not celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month felt “like a slap in the face.”
“You can stand in the middle of the Capen library for two minutes and see like 20 different cultures, and to think that those cultures aren’t celebrated just shows how isolating being away [at school] can be,” Vargas said. “The moment we decide to not celebrate something so big at such a big school, we fail.”
Despina Stratigakos, UB’s Vice Provost for Inclusive Excellence, wrote in a statement Wednesday that her office issued “a call for proposals” Wednesday for the spring’s Inclusive Excellence Summit, where the UB community discusses diversity, equity and inclusion. She reiterated that “diversity and inclusion are strongly held values” at UB.
Vargas, a senior sociology and criminology major, wore the Dominican Flag around his neck while walking down the academic spine.
LASA, which has roughly 200 members and is a recognized Student Association club, was founded to educate and promote awareness regarding the Latin-x community.
Vargas said he was upset that UB President Satish Tripathi spoke highly about the university’s diversity during his State of the University Address on Oct. 4, yet did not acknowledge Hispanic Heritage Month.
Other members of LASA agree and said attending a large university can feel lonely, especially a university that they feel doesn’t celebrate their culture.
Lilian Macancela, a senior legal studies major, said she protested because coming to UB was “very difficult” and it felt “isolating” knowing she was one of the few Hispanic students on campus.
“When I found LASA, it was one of the few communities [celebrating diversity], so having that support system is really helpful for us,” Macancela said. “And if we got recognition from the university, it would make us feel like we’re a part of something bigger.”
Macancela referenced the quotes from prominent people in different buildings across campus, few of which are from Hispanic Americans.
“I felt like I would be the only Spanish person in the room a lot of times, and it’s intimidating at a school with 30,000 students,” Macancela said.
As of 2018, 1.7% of UB’s faculty is Hispanic or Latin-x.
“Several months ago I convened a group of faculty to explore how UB might strengthen its support for Hispanic/Latin-x faculty and students,” Stratigakos' statement read. “While the university typically doesn’t celebrate specific heritage or commemorative months we will continue, through our programs, initiatives and conversations, to ensure that UB is welcoming and diverse.”
Alexandra Cuatlayo said it coming to UB “hurt”, because she was excited to see diversity celebrated often, but says she hasn’t seen it.
“I never realized how little the Latin culture is represented here, we are a very diverse school but the school doesn’t celebrate it enough,” Cuatlayo said.
Ming Chen Deng, a sophomore business administration major and vice president of LASA, wore the Venezuelan flag while protesting to represent his heritage.
“I believe that if UB wants to promote that they’re really a diverse school then they should be showing it through their actions,” Deng said. “We need to see things in the Student Union. It’s where everybody passes through every day. Awareness should be emphasized in this area especially.”
Vargas said LASA is ready to stand with any other club that decides to protest UB’s display of diversity.
“Silence is quiet, but silence is also very powerful. We made sure that we aren’t going to remain silent. It’s all about advocacy and standing up for our students,” Vargas said. “The diversity is there, but the celebration of it isn’t.”
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