While living in the Wilkeson Dorms his freshman year, Kevin Corrales was the only Latino student on his floor. He says he endured discriminatory comments about his community.
“Before all this had happened, I never felt like I didn’t belong on this campus, as I always viewed college as the path forward to build a better life for myself and for my family,” Corrales said. “Afterwards, the feeling stayed with me for years and only compounded throughout the pandemic. The imposter syndrome was intense. These thoughts quickly become invasive: ‘Do I deserve to be here?’ ‘Why am I struggling so much more than my classmates?’”
Corrales, now a senior mechanical engineering major and president of the Latin American Student Association (LASA), isn’t the only Latine UB student who’s grappled with a lack of representation on campus.
The Latin American Student Association brought Latine representation into the spotlight after protesting the Student Association’s new ticketing policy. The policy prevents clubs like LASA from subsidizing tickets to events like their annual Heritage Banquet for dozens of family members and alumni and puts a cap on non-undergraduate tickets.
After several conversations with SA and a protest outside the SA office, LASA hosted their banquet — with free tickets.
But they say their fight is far from over.
Members of LASA say that they’re still dogged by discrimination and underrepresentation following them around campus — and that UB only cares about supporting them during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Yaide Valdez, a junior political science and law major and vice president of LASA, says that none of her Spanish professors looked like her or taught about the cultures behind the language.
“There’s not only a lack of representation within the student body but the professional staff as well,” Valdez said.
UB isn’t only missing Hispanic professors. Despite being the largest school in the SUNY system, UB ranked No. 41 out of 61 SUNY schools in their Latine student population percentage, with 7.8% of students identifying as Hispanic in the fall of 2021.
“I sit in my classes and look around to a room of white men, and I sit there terrified to ask any questions,” Jaylean V. Ureña, a sophomore aerospace engineering major and LASA member said. “I don’t want to count the number of women or the people of color or the women of color, yet I do it anyway. Because I want to know how isolated I am. What sucks is no matter the size of the classroom whether it’s 40 people or 300, I can always count the number of women of color using my hands, which is terrifying… You now feel like everyone is judging you 100 times more.”
Corrales says that he has only had one Latino engineering professor during his time at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which has impacted his self esteem.
“The support I desperately needed didn’t exist,” Corrales said. “I was fortunate enough to persevere through engineering school and reach my final year — others not so much. They don’t get to tell their stories.”
Corrales says that having representation among university staff and faculty members is essential in aiding students of color and immigrant students.
“Many of our families are new to this country and many of us are still struggling for a place in this country,” Corrales said. “Seeing people from our culture in successful positions that are advocating for us lifts up the entire community and can do wonders for individuals at a PWI [primarily-white institution] who are struggling because they may be first-generation college students.”
In 2021, 69 faculty members identified as Hispanic or Latine, representing 2.8% of the 2,506 total faculty count, according to the UB Factbook. That’s up from 59 Hispanic or Latine faculty members, or 2.3% of the total, in 2016.
“Equity and inclusion are core values of our university and we take seriously our role in ensuring the experience on campus is a welcoming one for all,” Jacqueline Hollins, interim vice provost for inclusive excellence, said in an email statement to The Spectrum. “That was clear during our celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month in October with a months-long series of programs and activities sponsored by the Intercultural Diversity Center. And it’s clear, by UB’s ongoing commitment to diversify staff and faculty, that an inclusive campus is a priority.”
Latine students also feel underrepresented is UB’s lack of Hispanic culture around campus, students say.
The only Hispanic food available on campus is Moe’s Southwest Grill in the Student Union, Guac and Roll in the Ellicott Complex and Chick Mex in the Commons, all of which are inauthentic “Mexican” restaurants.
The closest Hispanic market to campus is ten minutes away, but no university shuttles run routes there.
UB spent $38 million on One World Café, a three-story, 53,500-square-foot, “international eatery.” The dining hall, which consists of five restaurants serving American, South Asian and Mediterranean dishes, doesn’t have any Hispanic or Latin eateries.
All that the international eatery has to represent the Hispanic community is a small Café Bustelo machine located in the back corner of the second floor.
Junior political science major and LASA event coordinator Alexandra Taveras is disappointed by the lack of options presented in One World Café.
“Something as simple as one of the restaurants selling rice and beans would have gone a long way,” Taveras said. “It may sound trivial, but I think it lends itself to a bigger picture. We are not seen or acknowledged the way we should be, the way we need to be. It’s more than just a restaurant in a café; it is that, clearly, we are not being brought up in conversation, there is no one fighting for us with the higher ups, we are not represented.”
Jacqueline Hollins, interim vice provost for inclusive excellence, said in an email statement to The Spectrum that UB met with LASA shortly after their protests in October and will continue communicating with them to gain a “better understanding of their perspective and expectations.”
“UB is always trying to diversify its student body,” Hollins said. “We believe that diversity — whether it’s ethnicity, race, socioeconomic background, gender or experience — substantially increases the quality and value of education for all our students, and is an essential foundation for achieving excellence and success.”
Corrales wants to see a more collective effort from UB and its administration. He appreciates UB Student Engagement and the Intercultural and Diversity Center (IDC) but says there “hasn’t been too much support for our club’s mission or our community.”
“I’d say that only some parts of the campus have shown that our organization matters to them,” Corrales said. “There is no widespread recognition of Latinidad on this campus.”
Ureña says that UB only demonstrates an interest in the Hispanic student population when it is beneficial for the university. After not recognizing or celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month until 2020, Ureña feels that UB should be doing more.
“They now recognize Hispanic Heritage month, after we protested,” Ureña said. “But honestly that’s about it. They don’t really care about us, or our events, or our issues. We’re just another club they can take pictures of and use for their ads.”
Latine students agree that support from UB is especially vital because many Hispanic cultures and traditions have a tendency to overlook mental health. According to a study performed by the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, 65% of Latine students with depression or anxiety go untreated.
“Our culture tends to emphasize productivity and a strong work ethic, [and] this can easily lead to burnout and fatigue,” Corrales said. “Remember to take care of yourself. Others before you may not have walked in the shoes you’re in, and they may not understand the positions you find yourself in. Don’t let this discourage you. Keep pushing forward.”
Ureña simply wants a familiar face to reassure her that college is worth the struggles she is enduring now.
“All we need is someone who speaks the same language telling us it’s going to be OK, paciencia y fe [patience and faith],” Ureña said.
Corrales says he would offer two pieces of advice to his fellow Latine students who are struggling to feel represented on campus.
“Remember your roots. Our stories of immigration and struggle might be painful, but they are an unlimited source of strength,” Corrales said. “Never forget where we come from, but especially don’t lose sight of where we’re going.”
Taveras says the need for community and support is why cultural groups like LASA are necessary to keep the heartbeat of campus alive and well — and the reason why UB should be more aware of LASA’s importance.
“These clubs are the home away from home for so many people, and for the university not to see and respect that is ludicrous,” said Taveras. “We need more than just a budget every year, we need substantial support from the university across the board.”
Kayla Estrada is a senior news/features editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kayla Estrada is a senior news/features editor at The Spectrum. She is an English major who enjoys rainy weather, “Bob’s Burgers” and asking people who they voted for. When she’s not writing, she can be found hunting for odd-looking knick-knacks at the nearest thrift store.