'Latinx' students demand larger safe space at UNC

“Latinx” students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) demonstrated on campus recently to demand a new meeting place specifically for Hispanic students, faculty, and staff.

The students, organized by the Latinx Unity Council student group, rallied on the steps of South Building, the chancellor’s stately office building in the middle of campus, waving signs and passionately addressing a crowd of students and administrators to declare “Estamos aqui UNC,” meaning “we are here UNC.”

The Latinx Unity Council also created a Change.org petition calling on the university to build a new and exclusive space for students of Spanish-speaking heritage, which had garnered 623 signatures at press time, out of a goal of 1,000 signatures.

“As the Latinx population continues to grow on this campus, the lack of representation is becoming more and more apparent,” the petition states. “There is a proposal to take into consideration the creation of a Carolina Latinx Center for this campus, but it is troubling that the future of this space will be decided without input from the individuals it seeks to represent. This has to change and it is our job as students, alumni, faculty, and staff to demand support and infrastructure from the university.”

The petition concludes that the Latinx community at UNC is entitled to greater recognition, declaring, “We deserve more representation. We deserve a space. We deserve a voice. #EstamosAquiUNC.”

Supporters of the petition described the demands as reasonable, contending that the current accomodations for Latinx students on campus are inadequate.

“They told us we weren’t ready for a center so they gave us a small space in the dorms and said prove it to us,” one Latinx alumna recalled. “We proved it to them. We outgrew that space. I will never forget our first Latinx Welcoming Reception for incoming students with hundreds of students walking in and out and there was no space for us to welcome everyone.”

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The Carolina Latina/o Collaborative (CLC) currently meets in the seminar wing of an underclass residence hall on the south side of campus, The Daily Tar Heel reports.

African-American students already have their own dedicated space, the Upendo Lounge, located in one of UNC’s Academic Services buildings.

Campus Reform was on scene at the protest and obtained video of some of the protesters’ complaints.

One common grievance cited by the students was that they feel “invisible” on campus, with one demonstrator saying she would like to have food she knows and recognizes served in the dining hall, while another pointed out that there was no mention of the Latinx community in the Chancellor’s welcome email at the beginning of the school year.

Christopher Guevara, an organizer of the protest, complained that “we asked for a space, [but] all we got was three seminar rooms on South Campus and a residence hall,” which he criticized for being much less extensive than the spaces used by faculty.

“If that space is enough, then how come administrators can meet in glorious in these glorious places, just like South Building, with these open offices, these large meeting rooms, these tables made out of mahogany and cushioned chairs, while all we get are just some tables in a seminar room?” he asked, asserting that “three seminar rooms and an office space aren’t enough to serve the 1,400 Latinx students that are here at UNC.”

Guevara noted that the university has tried to increase the admission rate for Latinx students, but claimed that little is done for them after they arrive at school.

“Coming to college as a Latinx student is a completely different universe,” Guevara said. “There are barriers, whether that [sic] be language barriers, whether that [sic] be about cultural barriers. There are just things that some of these administrators just don’t understand.”

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Chancellor Carol Folt and Provost Jim Dean both addressed the protesters, pledging that the university will take action and do more for the Latinx community in the future.

“We have gotten together recently and decided to add two staff members to support the CLC, so there will be some full-time support for people,” Dean said. “It’s just the beginning.”

“I’m glad that (the demands) are written out here,” Folt added. “I wish I could say that I don’t agree with everything that was said, but I do. In fact, all of us that are here do agree that the Latinx community is so important to this University and to being the university of the people.”

Hispanics represented 7 percent of the 4,228 first-year students enrolled at UNC in the fall semester of 2016, but Folt argued that real “change” would involve more than just a new safe space for thosestudents.

“Space is important,” she acknowledged, “but change is in admissions, it’s in financial aid, it’s in mental health, and it’s in advising.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @RiersonNC