As a Latine student in higher education I feel invisible most of the time. Even with USF’s diversity, it’s hard to see myself represented in guest speakers, professors, and peers. Imposter syndrome is a familiar enemy that I face on a daily basis: when I look at the people around me, when an unfamiliar idiom is used in class, and even in my leadership role at Latinas Unidas where I sometimes feel like I’m not “Latina enough.” The one thing that has helped me through these struggles is joining a Latine organization where I can share these experiences with others who know exactly what I am going through.
Although the Latine population makes up 21% of both the graduate and undergraduate student population at USF, I believe that we are one of the most underrepresented and underserved communities here on the Hilltop. Declining retention rates, staggered club enrollment, and conversations with friends tells me that it isn’t just me who feels invisible to the institution.
Isaac Madrigal, a fourth-year design major said he sees a lack of USF bridge programs — programs created to support Latine students transitioning into academic and professional life. “It’s important for that to be here because our people don’t have a long history of going to higher institutions nor family members who can help guide them through that,” he said. “So it feels like we’re on our own.”
USF is not currently a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). To qualify to be an HSI, the Latine student population must be at 25%, which USF falls just short of. According to the U.S. Department of Education, qualifying as a HSI would grant USF funding to strengthen institutional programs, facilities, and services for the Latine community on campus. USF currently lacks the funding to provide consistent support to Latine students; although they try — mostly during National Hispanic Heritage Month.
Latine students attend school year round, so who supports us once Hispanic Heritage Month concludes? The success of the Latine student population weighs heavily on the leaders of USF’s Latine oriented clubs: Latinas Unidas, Latinx Undergraduate Network of Activists (L.U.N.A), and USF Folklórico Club. As the President of Latinas Unidas, I feel the weight of my work for the organization in everything I do. I fear that if we as an organization don’t keep momentum and consistency, there would be no support systems for Latine students to feel safe, succeed, and be seen.
USF Folklórico club Vice President and sophomore politics major, Lidia Velasco-Robles has had similar thoughts. “Our work shows our perseverance and how much we care. But, if it wasn’t for us, I don’t think the change we have made would have happened,” she said. “It makes me proud of how resilient we are, but it’s annoying to think that if we weren’t the way we are we wouldn’t have gotten this far.”
Students aren’t the only one’s worried about the University’s lack of support. Graduate Student Coordinator for New Student and Family Programs, Valeria Ramirez said she’s afraid the energy that student organizations are generating now won’t be permanently put in place by the University, “I worry that USF will continually fail to recognize the necessity of providing this support and care towards our Latinx/Chicanx/Hispanic student community.”
It was this common sentiment among my community and the lack of institutional events here on campus that drove me to put my all into throwing a successful Latinx Heritage Celebration. Last month, Latinas Unidas and L.U.N.A invited students, faculty, staff, and families to attend our celebration of cultural food, inspiring Latine speakers, dancing, crafts, vendors, and games. Over the course of two months, our two organizations were completely responsible for planning and executing the event — a huge job coupled with full course loads, jobs, and extracurriculars.
Student organizations and cultural events are so incredibly important — more than non-minority people might realize. It is not just a Bad Bunny song or a dance party, but a place to connect back to our roots, to celebrate our culture, to feel like we’re home again and feel confident in the new home we’ve created at USF. Cultural events are a space to feel seen, celebrated, and valued.
Although you can always count on students to provide for their community, it is not entirely fair that on top of striving towards our degrees, we have to worry about maintaining these spaces. As Madrigal put it, “We shouldn’t always be fighting. We should be able to enjoy ourselves like everyone else.”
The Latine community is incredibly resilient — and if there’s two things we’re gonna do, it’s work-hard and persevere. Está en nuestra sangre. I hope that our efforts encourage the next leaders of the Latine organizations to continue the change.
Until then, I want USF to recognize our significance with action that will solidify the change student organizations are making. I would love for students to be allowed to cater from community restaurants that can prepare cultural foods for our events, rather than being forced to order from Bon Appétit. USF should also continue to increase the budget for the New Student Family Programs department’s Latinx Student Orientation and should work to highlight and hire more Latine staff. These small, but significant actions would simultaneously benefit USF and the Latine community here on the Hilltop.