USU LatinX Cultural Center

Chris Gonzalez, USU associate professor of English, works in his office in the Ray B. West Building on Tuesday morning. Gonzalez is the founding director of the USU LatinX Cultural Center.

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A new center at Utah State University designed to provide community outreach programming and support for the campus’s Latinx population is just starting to take flight.

The website for the Latinx Cultural Center went live within the last week, and school officials have confirmed the center exists, though it lacks a physical space — at least for now. School officials also plan to ask the USU Board of Trustees to make the center permanent.

Christopher González, an associate professor of English who is the center’s founding director, spoke with The Herald Journal about the importance of the Latinx Cultural Center, stating his belief that often times, Latinx students don’t feel like part of a larger group and thus feel like there are more challenges ahead of them.

“They need more opportunities; they need more resources to bring them to an equitable position,” González said. “If they’re given those opportunities, they will thrive. Sometimes, it can be as simple as having a space where they can come in and talk to other students who are from similar communities … that is a huge psychological burden that is relived.”

USU already has a number of Latinx-affiliated groups, and the Latinx Cultural Center would ensure a resource for students associated with those groups, according to González.

Almost two dozen professors make up the center, according to the USU website. That includes Felipe Valencia, an assistant professor of Spanish, who is supportive of the center’s creation.

“One of the things I’m really looking forward to with the center is getting in touch with the larger community and to listen to more perspectives on what (the) Latino community at USU wants and needs,” he said. “And seeing what can be my service, what can I offer.”

One of the main opportunities the Latinx Cultural Center will provide is mentoring for Latinx students.

“There are many of us of Latino heritage,” González said. “We certainly had mentors along the way, but often it was just luck. I thought, ‘It shouldn’t be so accidental.’”

Camila Sanabria, a USU graduate student, will mentor undergraduates. She said students may have questions about navigating the college experience, but above all else, they’ll likely want to feel “a sense of community.”

“Not having that sense of community was kind of hard,” said Sanabria, recalling her undergraduate experience. “So it’s really nice to have this place so we can see other Latinos.”

The center will also reach out to members of Cache Valley’s Hispanic community.

“I was really shocked to find there’s a significant Latino community in Cache Valley,” said González, who is originally from Texas. “And yet, when we set foot on campus, we don’t see the same kind of percentages.”

He noted how close Logan High School is to USU.

“Yet many of those students see this university as if it were a thousand miles away,” González said. “I want to know why.”

Aside from helping the Latinx student and community populations, the Latinx Cultural Center will also educate the entire campus community and valley through programming.

“When different cultures know one another better, society functions in a better way,” González said.

González and others associated with the center would like it to be located in the basement of the University Inn. González said in addition to office space for mentors and others, he envisions space for rotating art galleries and exhibits.

González said the idea for the center first came about when he was interviewing for a professorship at USU last year.

“I talked about an idea of having a more formal program or institution in place at the university that could fill these needs for this particular group of students and in our community,” he said. “The committee members, they thought it was just a wonderful idea.”

González even got a chance to talk to USU President Noelle Cockett about the idea for a center before he officially accepted a job at the school.

“We talked about ideas for how we can help this particular demographics of students,” González said. “She encouraged me.”

In an email to The Herald Journal, Cockett expressed support for the Latinx Cultural Center.

“My conversations with him and others, including students, have impassioned me on providing support for USU LatinX students,” she wrote.

González said a Latinx Cultural Center outreach event is scheduled for Sept. 17 in the USU Living Learning Center on campus.

For more information, visit latinx.usu.edu.

Kevin Opsahl is a staff writer and features editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at 435-752-2121 ext. 1016 or by email at kopsahl@hjnews.com

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