Latinx students share campus experiences during #IamLatinxUMass Instagram Live

Student leaders share their experience being Latinx at UMass

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Nina Walat / Daily Collegian

Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Kelly Palacios, Collegian Correspondent

The Students of Caribbean Ancestry Instagram account hosted a live Q&A on Friday, where two Latinx student leaders spoke about their experiences at the University of Massachusetts.

Luana Rodrigues Dos Santos, a senior psychology major, is a first-generation student, DACA recipient and president of both the Lusophone Student Alliance and its subgroup, the Brazilian-American Student Alliance. The other speaker, Luis Rodriguez, is a senior operations and information management major and the founder of El Barrio, the first Latinx defined residential community in UMass’ history.

On being a Latinx student at a predominantly white institution, they both shared that they struggled in the beginning to find a community. Of the over 23,000 undergraduate students at UMass, only eight percent identify as Hispanic/Latino, according to University Analytics and Institutional Research.

“If you know anything about Everett, you know that Brazil just basically packed up and moved there,” said Santos about her hometown. “If you are from that environment and then you go to Amherst it’s completely different. So, there’s a lot of push from people from that area to recreate the sense of community.”

Rodriguez shared similar sentiments and said that coming to UMass was a difficult adjustment, being the only person of color is most spaces and feeling like he was “put in a place where he had to represent all Latinos.” Being Black, Indigenous and Latinx, he had to reconcile his own identity issues for the first time when people asked him about his racial and ethnic background.

However, the two seniors were able to find a home in the Latinx communities at UMass where people shared their interests and cultural identities.

“More than anything I looked to individual organizations that have welcomed me and treated me like family since day one,” said Rodriguez.

He currently serves as the vice president of La Unidad Latina, the only Latinx fraternity at UMass, is on the e-boards of Latinos Unidos and is the founder and creator of El Barrio.

“Those are the organizations that have really kept me afloat,” he said.

The on-campus groups weren’t the only places they were able to find support. Santos shared that her psychology advisor was one of her biggest supporters and the reason why she was able to find great internships and succeed academically.

“My entire life, especially as a Latinx student, has been figuring things out for myself because I’m first-generation and my parents don’t know anything about that,” said Santos. “[My advisors] were the people who opened college life up to me, in the sense that I don’t have to figure stuff out on my own.”

Her biggest piece of advice? Get to know your professors and advisors.

“You don’t realize how much you need them until you do.”

The host of the Q&A, junior political science major Victor Del Carmen, echoed the statement and said that finding mentors is what really turned around his UMass experience.

“Even though I’m only a junior, I’ve had a lot of relationships and met people who have become my mentor. Also, they have guided me through the whole process of me trying to graduate and have a successful future after UMass,” said Del Carmen.

They encouraged all undergraduate Latinx students, especially first years who might not be on campus, to get involved in anyway they can.

“Finding a community that you relate to is so important. I had a ton of identity issues as a freshman and wanting to find my group,” said Santos. “Just to have that family is like a little piece of home.”

Kelly Palacios can be reached at [email protected] . Follow her on Twitter @kellydpalacios.