Students and faculty request a Chicano/Latino Center on campus

Five students and four faculty members made a public request for the El Camino Community College District to create a designated space on campus for Chicano/Latino students.

This request was made during the public comment section at the Board of Trustees meeting for the month of May, almost two months after the Social Justice Center was officially announced during El Camino’s “CommUnity Walk Against Hate” event.

Much like the Black Student Success Center, a subset of the Social Justice Center, the proposed Chicano/Latino Center is meant to be a social hub dedicated to embracing the vast cultural identities of Latino students and providing academic support tailored to their needs.

According to a student profile report from El Camino’s website, 48% of the students enrolled at El Camino College identify as Latino as of 2020, representing the largest ethnic group out of the entire student population.

Several speakers such as English Instructor and Puente Project Co-coordinator Erica Brenes spoke on the importance of serving El Camino’s largest population of students.

“So many of our students, staff and faculty who are Chicano or Latino feel continuously marginalized in our community and despite the fact that [the college’s] motto is ‘this is a place for belonging’, I know they don’t feel like they belong,” Brenes said. “Research shows us that we have to make spaces that are affirming and validating. Chicano cultural centers are shown to do that.”

An overwhelming majority of student speakers voiced their concerns about not feeling represented at El Camino College, even knowing that Latino students make up for almost half of the entire student demographic.

First-year student Callie Garcia was excited to attend El Camino knowing that the college has a large majority of Latino students, however, she did not feel welcomed on campus.

“I knew that El Camino is a really like Latino/Mexican college but when I walked onto [campus] it didn’t really feel that way to me. Honestly it kind of felt like a generic college space like anywhere else.” Garcia said.

For Garcia and many other students, not only is a Chicano/Latino Center needed on campus to feel a sense of belonging, but to also discuss important topics such as history, transphobia, homophobia, racism, colorism and identity within the Chicano community.

The topic of identity was also important to Chicano Studies student George Vargas, who believes that having a dedicated Chicano/Latino Center on campus will help in providing clarity and connection on the vast amount of cultural identities that are commonly associated with the Latino ethnicity group.

“This student center, I believe, would give us the opportunity to correct our identity. Just because I’m mixed…does not make me a Latino or Hispanic or somebody of European descent. We’re the only people that have countless and multiple identities.” Vargas said.

The Union staff first reported on both the Social Justice and Black Student Success centers in March. The Social Justice Center is the main social hub dedicated to helping all underrepresented groups and so far, the only subset center formed from that is the Black Student Success Center.

As of this writing, there are no official plans to create a center dedicated to serving the needs of Chicano/Latino students, however, former El Camino College student and lead advocate for the creation of the Social Justice Center, Giancarlo Fernandez, said that the main center was meant to be a foundation where other subset centers could emerge from.

“I knew that with successfully implementing a Social Justice Center, that would create more opportunities for more tailored resource centers for specific marginalized communities like the Black Student Success Center,” Fernandez said. “I know that win will bring more wins to the entire campus community.”