February 9, 2016
By Mary Mogan Edwards
More than 2,200 Latino students are enrolled at Ohio State University, nearly twice as many as 10 years before. They used to be able to gather in a budding, if unofficial, Latino center and not worry about immigration status or fitting in. But the center's space-sharing arrangement fell through, the center has fallen apart and Latino students say they feel overlooked.
University officials have held a series of meetings lately with Latino student leaders seeking more support. One request is key: "They're really making it clear that they would like to have an official space," said Sharon Davies, vice president of diversity and inclusion for Ohio State.
A mentoring program called LASER (Latino and Latin American Space for Enrichment and Research) has official space in Ohio State's Hale Black Cultural Center, home of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. But the program especially thrived after it began sharing space with the Humanities Institute in Knight House, a former residence on 15th Avenue that the College of Arts and Sciences rents from the Office of Student Life.
"There was space to work, to have undergrads come and meet, and a safe place for undocumented students to be," said Frederick Aldama, an English professor and founder of the LASER program. He valued the interaction among Latino students and "the intellectual work going on" with the Humanities Institute.
The unofficial Latino center emerged during the fall semester, Aldama said, with students starting to spread the word and plan programs.
But Arts and Sciences decided, as a cost-cutting measure, to stop paying rent to Student Life for the Knight House at the end of December. Both the Humanities Institute and LASER have been assigned other, smaller spaces, in buildings owned by Arts and Sciences, but students and faculty involved say it's not the same as the homey accommodations at Knight House.
And they see it as the latest example of Ohio State not recognizing Latino students' needs.
Latino students new to Ohio State find "there's no sense of community," said Jonathan Rodriguez, a fourth-year student and president of the OSU chapter of Sigma Lambda Beta, a Latino-culture-focused fraternity founded in 1986. "With the Knight Center, we had that space" where students could plan larger events and gather. "It's much harder to have this floating blob around campus."
Rodriguez and his fraternity brothers feel Ohio State works hard to recruit Latino students but forgets about them once they're on campus.
Aldama and some students stress that they appreciate efforts Ohio State has made, including recent meetings with Davies and other officials and a promised meeting with President Michael V. Drake.
"It's not an issue of people not doing their jobs," said Luis Macias, a graduate student in education and a LASER fellow. "The problem is that they underestimate the need for more programs."
The many Latinos who are first-generation college students need mentors to help with basics such as navigating the university bureaucracy and to serve as examples of people who have come from similar backgrounds and found success, Macias said.
A more-comfortable space where Latinos know they can come for help or community would make a big difference, Ruiz' fraternity brothers say. "Just walking into a room full of smiling faces is enough to encourage someone," said Cesar Santamaria, a recent graduate.
Some compare the relative lack of support for Latino students to those in place for Ohio State's 3,139 black students and 3,533 Asians. Sebastian Bolona, a second-year industrial-design major, had a roommate from China during his freshman year and accompanied him to a university-sponsored event for Asian students.
"I didn't feel welcome like that as a Latino," Bolona said. "All the people in that room were Chinese."
Source: The Columbus Dispatch