The doors of La Casa Latino Cultural Center are open to everyone at IU, regardless of race, ethnicity or national origin, their website says. Visit the home on Seventh Street and learn about their events, the site encourages.
But, a recent study concluded that the majority of Latino students at IU do not visit La Casa.
“I feel like I’m airing some dirty laundry,” said Dr. Sylvia Martinez, associate professor in the School of Education, before presenting her research.
Through funding from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, Martinez conducted surveys and interviews to determine how IU students’ identities affected their level of involvement at La Casa, which included 182 surveys and 53 in-depth interviews of Latino undergraduates.
Students reported reasons such as busy schedules and a lack of need or interest in participating with La Casa, which Martinez said she expected. But, what she did not expect was the 12.3 percent of students who said they felt unwelcome.
“After crunching the numbers, that’s about 250 Latino students that we might be missing out on because they don’t feel welcome,” she said. “To me, that’s significant enough.”
Based off survey responses, certain students were chosen to be interviewed to have more in-depth discussions about their identities and involvement at La Casa. In one of the interviews, one of Martinez’s subjects said she did not feel as if her identity was satisfactory for La Casa, most likely because she is lighter-skinned.
“I am not Latino enough for anybody,” the student said.
Junior Angelica Navarro, an active participant at La Casa, said she also sometimes feels this way.
“Sometimes I feel devalued because I’m light-skinned and not completely fluent in Spanish,” she said. “But I’ve learned to overcome it and be myself regardless.”
Even Lillian Casillas, director of La Casa, said she did not step foot in La Casa while she was an undergraduate at IU.
“I spent most of my time at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center because it was my first point of contact at IU and I felt welcome there,” Casillas said.
Although Casillas said she was disappointed at the number of students who said they were not interested or do not feel welcome at La Casa, she was not personally offended.
“I know that it’s not an attack on La Casa, it’s just an internal feeling in some students,” she said. “It’s not necessarily the culture here, but the culture of Latinos in general.”
After Casillas said this, she and Martinez, along with other members of La Casa, began to discuss how some students simply want to be involved in other non-Latino communities instead.
Navarro said many of the students who were involved with a Latino group with her earlier in the year had shifted their focus to other places, such as greek life.
“A lot of them joined predominantly white frats and sororities,” she said. “It’s possible that they’re trying to run away from what they’re used to, but maybe they just want a new experience.”
Martinez and Casillas agreed with Navarro, that not all students necessarily feel the need to strongly identify with their heritage.
“We’re all choosing different paths,” said Casillas. “We can’t impose identities on people.”
Ultimately, Martinez concluded that although there is always room for improvement at La Casa, the real change is going to happen between the students themselves.
“It’s these everyday interactions between students that is going to make a difference,” she said.
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