By Kelly Lopez
I make my way into the colorfully painted building that I know all too well. I walk in and I’m greeted cheerfully by my peers, my friends, and my family. Most people know this building as the colorful building next to Au Bon Pain that occasionally sells freshly cooked empanadas. I call this building my second home. The Center for Latino Arts and Culture or as I, along with others who consider it a second home, call it the CLAC. Every day, dozens of students come in and out of the CLAC to take a nap, to do homework, or simply to embrace the family vibe. The CLAC has been serving as a second home to the Latino community here at Rutgers since its establishment in 1992. Not only is the CLAC a second home to many Rutgers students but it also serves as a means of resources, personal development, as well as educational, cultural and professional programming. The CLAC is what many Latino cultural organizations- greek and non-greek- have labeled as a safe haven and as a necessary resource for the health and well-being of the many Latino organizations that it supports.
Recently, our small but beautiful community has been burdened with a lack of support from Rutgers University. Although Rutgers claims to be proud of its diversity, the university does not seem to be as genuine as it portrays itself. Most of us can say that we’ve noticed the small changes here at Rutgers that have got us asking, “Where are the values of Rutgers University really held?” Does Rutgers really value its diversity, academics, or even that its one of the top 25 LGBT-friendly schools in the country? Or does the heart of Rutgers just lie within the gates of High Point Solution Stadium? When a university only pays graduate students $3000 per course that they teach, while our football coach was promised a raise from his already ridiculous pay of $950,000 to $1.25 MILLION dollars per year, remaking him the highest paid employee at Rutgers University, we have to question whether or not Rutgers is truly concerned with our students and academics or just our athletics. But Rutgers’ slow transition into a money-hungry, capitalist industry is beside my point.
Our Latino community has been burdened by a quota requirement made effective by Student Life and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. Any Greek or non-Greek organization wishing to be recognized officially by Rutgers is required to have a minimum of 8-10 (8 for Greek organizations and 10 for non-Greek organizations) members. As our numbers are lacking in comparison to other communities, the Latino community has struggled to maintain healthy organizations. This issue particularly affects the Latino Greek organizations who struggle semester after semester to avoid the two year suspension that their organization will have to face if they fail to meet this eight member requirement. According to the Chapter Viability Policy provided by the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs (OFSA), the quota was implemented as a way to “insure healthy group and community dynamics.” However, many Greek organizations chartered under the Latino Student Council have been very successful and contributive “academic success, community service, campus involvement and support of community-wide and council programs”, which is what OFSA provides as a description for a Greek organization that contributes to the Greek community. Frankly, most would say the success of an organization should be judged by the students, and not by OFSA. A two-year suspension for not meeting a quota is not conducive to growth or bettering the Greek community. What it does is it puts a stress on our students who have worked so hard to keep these organizations running smoothly and productively, long before this quota was implemented.
Another issue facing our community is Rutgers’ lack of cultural awareness when trying to accommodate our community. Latino organizations on campus who wish to have events with typical Latino dishes often run into the issue that Rutgers offers very minimal options when looking into the Rutgers-approved catering companies. Sorry Rutgers Dining Services, but your makeshift arroz con gandules does not make the cut and no, Currito is not real Mexican food. On a more organizational level, Student Life fails to properly train many of our student leaders on how to run an organization. Much of what is learned is through experience and other than a sixty-page booklet, Student Life fails to provide a sufficient amount of training. “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”. Finally, Student Life fails to consider representation during their annual Scarlet Awards. Although, the Latino community is awarded and recognized, the Scarlet Awards are mostly white-washed and not inclusive of our cultural organizations.
The last point I want to touch on is the same as my first point: the CLAC- the center of our community. The CLAC is responsible for endless amounts of the Latino student and organization successes. As mentioned before, it serves as a home and a very necessary resource. The CLAC has contributed to the Rutgers and New Brunswick community in expansive ways. The CLAC has researched and produced over thirty exhibitions and catalogues. Several of the exhibitions traveled to international venues and received positive reviews in the New York Times as well as in local and national papers. Since 1996, the CLAC has sponsored the Artists Mentoring Against Racism, Drugs and Violence Healing Through the Arts Summer Camp. This camp runs five days a week, and includes a life skills building program serving at risk youth in New Brunswick. Since 1996, it has serviced over 800 youth. Over the years, the CLAC has collaborated with a number of Rutgers faculty to develop courses that focus on Latino arts and culture, including study abroad courses in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and more recently Costa Rica. The CLAC is truly a token of excellence in our community. And yet, with all of its amazing contributions, it still lacks funding, staff, and accessibility necessary for its expansion. The CLAC has very little space for events, has an administrative team of only four people servicing dozens of students, and is not wheelchair accessible. Silismar Suriel, the Program Director of the CLAC who has been a mentor and friend to many of our community members is humbled to say that “we make a lot happen with very little resources”. And yes, where we lack in resources, we make up for in resourcefulness.
I truly love this vibrant community, and although we do not receive the resources necessary to expand as we would like, I have extremely high hopes for the potential of the Latino community. We have a very rich and historical presence here at Rutgers and we do not plan on going anywhere.