Latinx Heritage Month was celebrated on the University of Wisconsin campus from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 this year. But, this year’s celebration looked different than in years past as the pandemic forced the majority of the month’s events to go entirely online.
Arturo Diaz, the organization development specialist for the Multicultural Student Center (MSC), said COVID-19 changed the programming of several events offered during Latinx Heritage Month. Diaz still expected this year’s festivities to build a sense of community, especially amongst faculty members on campus.
“What’s special about this Latinx Heritage Month is that we’re really giving the opportunity to build community amongst staff as well,” Diaz said. “That’s something staff such as myself see as an opportunity to be able to be there for the students while also being able to be there for ourselves and provide that outlet for each other.”
The Latinx Heritage Month Student Planning Community planned several events as part of the celebration. Rachelle Eilers, the senior advisor for the Chicanx & Latinx Studies Program, said the planning committee organized events such as the Latinx Student Orientation as well as a new focus on mental health in the Latinx community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each year Latinx Heritage Month kicks off with the March Up Bascom, an event Eilers and Diaz created together over four years ago.
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“We started the March Up Bascom as a way to showcase the Latinx individuals on campus,” Eilers said. “I feel like there are so many Latinx individuals here so it can be hard to know where to look. We saw it as a good way for transfer students, staff and faculty to come out, meet folks and show the capabilities of us all.”
Though Diaz and Eilers said they were nervous about the turnout of the first march, it proved to be great success. Over 100 students, staff and faculty members attended, Eilers said.
Typically the event features flags of various Latin American countries, traditional Latinx treats and networking activities for those attending the march, Eilers said. This year, however, the march was held on Instagram Live. Eilers was a keynote speaker, choosing to discuss the history of Latinx Heritage Month and the importance of celebrating Latinx heritage.
“The march is a display of how we take up space on campus,” Diaz said. “Marching happens a lot in our community when you look at activism, and so we wanted to use it as an opportunity to celebrate ourselves.”
Diaz said a crucial element of Latinx Heritage Month is the sense of community and belonging these events provide for students, staff and faculty.
Diaz said growing up, he did not have access to knowledge about his Latinx identity, and spaces such as those provided through Latinx Heritage Month provide an opportunity to learn and engage in conversation.
“These events promote inclusivity because UW is providing this opportunity for students, staff and faculty to come together in these virtual times and provide an outlet for community building,” Diaz said. “It also provides opportunities to learn about each other. Coming here and being able to participate and learn from events gives that opportunity to build that up as well.”
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Diaz said events organized to help Latinx students to connect with one another and discover opportunities do not end with Latinx Heritage Month.
Diaz said the MSC, for example, works with Latinx students year-round.
“The MSC provides an opportunity for students to learn from one another but also provides them an outlet to learn and celebrate themselves,” Diaz said. “It’s also a great opportunity for them to build leadership skills. We are hoping to create a lasting impression so students can see the campus celebrates them and sees them as a Badger.”
Eilers said that throughout her time on campus, she tried to change how programs such as the Chicanx and Latinx Certificate Program allocate their funding which has more than doubled the number of students in the certificate program.
More than ever, Eilers said, she believes students are looking for a community and a network that feels like home to them.
“I think it’s just nice to have a place where your culture and heritage are celebrated and it’s actually incorporated into the event,” Eilers said. “Making sure that folks feel prideful in who they are is essential, especially considering we are a smaller minority on campus. The fact that we’re celebrating our heritage is really important.”
Although COVID-19 changed the mode through which students and faculty can communicate, Diaz still hopes students can find a place where they feel connected and celebrated.
Diaz said UW staff play a key role in creating a solid network for Latinx students, especially through Latinx Heritage Month.
“I’m a part of the Latinx Academic Staff Association (LASA), which is an organization of self-identified Latinx staff members on campus who get together and host programs,” Diaz said. “Through that, we’ve been able to have a staff focus on community-building. Obviously, we want to focus on students and provide them that opportunity as well.”
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Eilers said she hopes Latinx Heritage Month, as well as Latinx-focused programs on campus, continue to generate interest from students.
Through unifying and showcasing the value of Latinx individuals, Eilers believes the UW community will understand they have a voice to help others who might not have the same platform.
“I just want to remind everyone that you have a place on campus, you are valued and we appreciate you and we are glad you are here,” Eilers said.