Many Latinx student organizations at IU have canceled their annual events or moved them online since the COVID-19 pandemic began. For many students, this meant a loss of their support system and bonding with other Latinx IU students.
Chris Mendez, chair of the Latino Graduate Student Association executive board and graduate student, said the LGSA fosters social connections that have been crucial for both its members and his personal success.
Mendez said the group had to cancel its end-of-year La Parranda event last year, which would have been a family event featuring mariachi band performances and arts and crafts to celebrate La Parranda, a Puerto Rican Christmas music tradition. Other social events have been moved online, which takes away the casual social interactions, he said.
“It's been challenging to entice people to join us for these virtual social meetings,” he said.
Although he’s not certain whether the pandemic will end next semester, Mendez said he’s hopeful the group will be able to offer more face-to-face events in the fall semester.
“I think that we will be more safe to hold in-person events,” he said. “I do believe that we can do more in person.”
Zoom fatigue from online classes has kept students from staying engaged in virtual events, junior Hillary Perez, vice president of internal communications at Latinos Unidos at IU, said.
“Most students are just so tired of being on Zoom all day,” she said. “As an organization, trying to create events that people will want to hop on Zoom or hop on the computer for is a lot harder.”
However, Perez said she is optimistic LUIU will engage well with next semester’s incoming students and play an important role in transitioning them into the IU community.
Junior Monica Pineda, co-president of the LUIU, said the organization makes her feel heard and seen as a first-generation college student on a predominantly white campus. While she feels she is often ignored in class group projects, she said LUIU gave her the support system she needed.
“Having LUIU as a community to come and talk to, kind of vent to, and just providing all those resources for students is really vital to the experience of anybody who is a person of color,” she said.
To encourage more Latinx students to participate, Pineda said she’s preparing changes to LUIU’s hierarchical structure to make it more inclusive.
“IU is supposed to be our home away from home, but of course, it doesn’t always feel that way for first-generation students,” she said. “So we really want to find ways to knock down that barrier for students who were impacted by the pandemic.”
Luis Fuentes-Rohwer, Maurer School of Law professor and faculty advisor for the Latinx Law Student Association, said many events such as talks, dance lessons and get-togethers require in-person connection. He said meeting on Zoom doesn’t help build a sense of community.
“Zoom is just like you’re watching movies or something,” he said. “It’s not the same.”
However, Fuentes-Rohwer said students at the LLSA and other Latinx student organizations he advises are making the best out of a difficult situation.
“Kudos to them for hanging in there, for trying classes and their groups and organizations and all the things that they’re doing,” he said. “It’s not easy – I know that – for anybody.”