New Latinx Defined Residential Community announced to open in fall

El Barrio aims to create community and unity

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By Irina Costache, Assistant News Editor

The University of Massachusetts will open its first Latinx Defined Residential Community (DRC), El Barrio, to residents this fall. The community will start out as a two-year pilot program that, if successful, will continue into the future.

El Barrio will be located on the 21st and 22nd floors of Washington Hall in the Southwest Residential Area and will be open to Latinx students or students interested in learning more about Latinx culture.

“The overall mission is to learn about where we come from and further share similarities while also acknowledging our differences,” said Luis Rodriguez, a rising Operations & Information Management senior and the founder of El Barrio.

According to the University website, residents of El Barrio will not only get to learn through living with one another, but will be given opportunities to participate in different programming initiatives and collaborate with other Latinx groups on campus. Rodriguez also hopes to host events for students to showcase the leadership and excellence of students of color on campus.

“Students in El Barrio will build connections between each other by engaging in dialogue surrounding their intersecting identities and interests; as well as collaborating with other communities who face similar social, economic, and political issues,” according to the website.

For Rodriguez, the journey to creating El Barrio began when he joined La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity. He says he began to understand more about where he came from and where he wanted to go.

“Through that self-reflection, I realized that I wanted to make an impression on the campus and involve myself in an activity that would benefit and change the community for the better,” Rodriguez said. “I was able to realize some of the conflicts I faced were really a lack of unity on campus amongst my community of peers and the lack of safe spaces we have at our disposal. Identifying this problem made it easier for me to decide on what it was that I wanted to do.”

“My fraternity has been a complete foundation for the DRC because without my fraternity, one, I would have never thought of this idea. But on the other hand, they’ve just been there to support every step of the way,” he added.

To create El Barrio, Rodriguez reached out to Registered Student Organizations, faculty and administrators on campus to build a foundation of support. Some of these organizations include Men of Color United, Student Bridges, Latinos Unidos and the Latinx American Cultural Center.

Creating a Latinx defined residential community has been attempted in the past at UMass, but has failed because of disagreements, Rodriguez said. Knowing this, Rodriguez decided to speak to administrators.

“I told them that I want to sit down and figure out what steps were taken in the past, and what failures there were, and why they failed, so that way I can try to avoid those mistakes when I begin the process,” Rodriguez said.

In naming the DRC, Rodriguez set up an Instagram poll where he first solicited name suggestions, and then had followers vote on the most popular ones. The name translates to “The Neighborhood” in Spanish.

After some debate, Rodriguez and administrators decided to place El Barrio in Southwest.

“We decided to host it in Southwest seeing that there’s a higher concentration of students of color to ensure that residents of the DRC actually fulfill the overall goal of unifying the campus. The goal was that we could in the future look toward maybe expanding or moving the DRC to another part of campus after it’s more established,” Rodriguez said.

Applications for students to join El Barrio opened in the spring and are currently closed.

“I decided to join because I feel like it would definitely be a nice shift. I know for my freshman year, there wasn’t really many Latinx people that I have met in my residence hall – there’s only about two out of them,” said Kevin Gonzalez a rising sophomore engineering major. “Being able to be with other people that I can identify with would definitely be comforting to an extent, just knowing that I’m with people that I can relate to that would understand the struggle, like the Latinx diaspora.

Gonzalez added that he is looking forward to building a community and connecting with other Latinx students, as well as helping one another through the college experience.

“In an attempt to bring the Latinx community on campus, I think El Barrio will be very helpful because you’ll have a lot of people gathering socially every day and possibly helping one another boost morale but also bringing together the Latinx community on campus,” Gonzalez said.

“At the end of the day, I hope that the residents of El Barrio walk away with a new place that they can call home. El Barrio was entirely created with the idea of building community and unity among strangers and friends. So, I really want this to be the case,” Rodriguez said.

“I hope that the residents of El Barrio walk away knowing new skills to empower themselves and other people of color. I hope that the residents find nuances within Latin culture that they’ve never seen or heard of before. I hope that the residents know that El Barrio stands in solidarity with all those facing injustices, no matter their cultural background.”

Irina Costache can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @irinaacostache.