WBAA examines race and diversity at Purdue (Part Two)

Dec 18, 2012

Dead Week for Purdue students is the seven days leading up to final exams.  Sleep comes at a premium, bags under their eyes are the latest accessory, and energy drinks are consumed at Nascar speeds.

But, at the Latino Cultural Center, dead week also is a chance for students to gather one last time before the end of the semester.

On December 6th, about 40 students packed inside the LCC. The center provided free meals for them. 

As David Robledo says, it’s just one less thing students have to worry about as they get ready to take their biggest exams of the semester.

“We want them to not spend a lot of time preparing meals or thinking about where their next meal may come from.  We want them to know they can come here, eat a good home made meal, hopefully go back, study, and get ready for finals,” he said.

Robledo helped coordinate the event and even cooked some of the food.

He says gatherings such as this one help bolster the efforts of the Latino Cultural Center.

"We are not only promoting the Cultural Center, but we are promoting that there are Latino faculty and staff on campus," he said.  “We may not always be very visable.  But, we are here, we care.  We care about the students.”

The Latino Cultural Center can be easy to miss. In fact, if you aren’t looking for it, you probably will miss the brown house on Russell Street.  It looks a lot like a fraternity house with a small lawn sign and art around the doors as its identifiers.

Freshman Ariana Diaz says the building is a microcosm of how some Latino students feel on campus.

"We don't have that space. (Purdue) doesn't give us the space that we need to be able to show our dances, our food, to be able to expand our culture to the rest of campus because it's so small and so pushed away from campus," she said.  "I feel like our opportunity to get others to see it is very small."

And for a first year student looking to establish connections on campus, Diaz says not having a more visible Latino presence can, at times, make her feel alone.

"Coming into campus as a freshman, I did feel lost," she said.  "I was so close to my culture back at home.  I wish I had that here, sometimes.  I wish I had that kind of support, people that would understand you better and that's the people of your own kind.  So sometimes walking on campus I do feel and I wish that there were more Latinos on campus or at least that our culture would be more embraced and recognized."

The Latino Cultural Center is celebrating its ten year anniversary this year.  During that time Latino undergraduate enrollment at Purdue is up by about 60-percent.  Those students make up about three-and-a-half-percent of the overall student body. 

Yet, junior Nathaly Samper says there is still a lack of recognition of the Latino culture and that has forced her to establish two personas.

"In our culture, we I see my friends (at the LCC) we hug and kiss on the cheek.  But, when I see my friends outside of here, I can't do that with them, because it's not their culture," she said.  "I have to be two different people.  I can be louder here and that's acceptable.  You are more yourself.  But, you shouldn't have to have that divided identity.  I wish it could come into one."

And she says, in her major specifically, her ethnic heritage makes the Purdue experience even more challenging.

"I am a female, Hispanic in mechanical engineering," said Samper.  "Every semester for people who don't know me and I go into classes, it's like they make me feel like I shouldn't be there.  I have to prove myself."

But, Latino Cultural Center Director Maricela Alvarado says that doesn’t need to be the case.  She credits Purdue with setting up a system to make Latino students feel welcomed and at home on campus.

"When I first started at Purdue in 2004, we only had about six Latino-based organizations that we could account for, but now we are up to 17," she said.  "I think the university, as a whole, there are a lot of different departments and colleges programs and relationships with Latin  American countries."

Senior Gabriel Valtierra is encouraging Latino students to take the first step and educate others about their culture and background.

"For Latinos, it's more so just educating the naive," he said.  "It's more so a role now for myself to do that.  Because if I don't do it, who is to say that the next person won't get offended by it and something may occur.  When really, some people just need help with it.

He believes if Latino students can take those steps forward and serve as a catalyst in promoting their own culture, the Latino presence will increase and lead to more opportunities for students and staff.

"Culturally, if you do something somewhere, you may get the weirdest reaction ever.  If you do it where you are comfortable and people know you, it's normal," he said.  "The fact that we are not the norm here, we don't feel normal. You can't act yourself."

"Once we feel like we belong, then we are not going to worry about 'oh let me put on a facade or let me wear a mask around these people,' and just ask professional and be a student."