University of Michigan's Latino/a Community

Posted Mar 18 2006

1999-2000 was a school year of countless ups and downs as students garner regional and international attention via performances, student protests and more. (Mi Gente, May 2000)

When looking at the future of community, it goes without question to consider the state of our young people. After all, they are the future. Whether they're in high school, holding down a nine-to-five, or trying to raise a family, they all play a critical role in our collective future. With this thought in mind, taking a look at the past year for Latino students at the University of Michigan might add some insight as to what's in store for our community as a whole.

It was a particularly difficult period as long-time Latino/a Student Coordinator Katalina Berdy left to pursue opportunities at Wayne State University. Students and staff alike were left scrambling to deal with issues, including lawsuits against U of M's affirmative action policy, student protests, and the ever-present internal conflicts. Yet, the community saw extreme growth, in activism, awareness and an overall sense of empowerment.

A concrete example of this growth was the explosion of new organizations and programs geared towards Latino students. From the founding of a pre-medical association to the formation of new Greek organizations, many students felt that they had more options to get involved with campus life. Students even instituted a program known as the Collegiate Leadership and Development Program that allowed young Latinos the opportunity to dialogue with top-level administrators. But undoubtedly, the organization to make the most impact was the pan-ethnic Student Color Coalition (SCC).

Latinos were heavily involved with the activist group, which submitted a fourteen point petition to administration highlighting numerous problems at the University, including the low number of faculty of color and the limited amount of resources for offices such as Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs. The group gained national attention when they staged a 37-day sit-in of the Michigan Union tower, a move that led to the removal of three of the University's "secret societies" from the space, including the notorious Michigamua, a senior honor society with a history of practicing rituals that denigrate Native American culture. While a permanent resolution is still being worked out, many feel that the full impact of the SCC's actions has yet to be realized.

There is a general feeling that the SCC has set a process in motion that has led to a change in the way offices deal with students of color and an increase in critical thinking around certain issues. Still, the SCC's actions led to direct conflict with other Latino students who disagreed with their beliefs and tactics, a fact that could have seriously fragmented the community.

To complicate things more, with the existence of nearly twenty student groups this year, there was intense competition for membership and many conflicts split along organizational affiliations. Fortunately, most students worked to focus on community-wide goals and strove for unity. Many groups decided to co-sponsor events in an effort to promote peace and a communal work ethic.

Similarly, the year saw staff and faculty from different offices and departments at the University working together to organize events and programs. The year also saw more collaborations between Latino students and non-Latino students in an effort to help the entire U of M campus grow.

Event-wise, Latinos organized some of the Midwest's most innovative and successful events, including a reading by Pulitzer-nominated author Alfredo Vea, a performance by award-winning actor and social activist Danny Hoch, and an appearance by the spoken word group I Was Born With Two Tongues. Ironically, neither of the latter two events featured Latino performers. As a result, many students and staff were forced to challenge their narrow perceptions about the involvement of Latinos at the University. The events were extremely successful and pulled diverse crowds, bringing U of M's campus together to address issues that transcended ethnic and racial boundaries.


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