A Letter from La Causa

To whom it may concern:

Latinx students and the diversity within the Latinx community need more visibility and support on the Amherst College campus. We need support in all senses of the word: academic support, administrative support, emotional support, or else we won’t be able to successfully function as healthy students. As Latinx students, we do not feel that we have a space or a cohesive Latinx identity on this campus. Arriving to a campus that is predominantly Caucasian creates feelings of alienation for black and brown Latinxs that should not be ignored. It often becomes difficult to understand how we should relate to our identities as Latinxs. We need more support from administration and the Amherst community in general in order to have our identities reaffirmed as Latinx students that deserve a space as much as our white peers at such an elite institution.

Having our only exclusive space on campus, the José Martí Room, relegated to the basement of Keefe Campus Center gives the impression that Latinx students are not a valued community on campus. Unless students had previous knowledge of its location, the José Martí Room would be very difficult to find, as it is hidden at the end of a winding hallway in the basement of Keefe. Its location prevents students that are not aware of La Causa to ever casually run into the space and the resource of community that it is meant to provide. Additionally, the size of the room does not accommodate the size of the Latinx community it is meant to foster on campus. Despite the growth of the Latinx population on campus over the past few years, our space has not been able to reflect this change. The capacity of the room often results in overcrowded meetings which inhibit physically comfortable conversations that are inclusive of everyone’s voice. Additionally, during the winter months the room gets extremely cold and even after pressing emails to facilities it often takes a few weeks for the temperature to be re-equilibrated, creating a physically uncomfortable space and reinforcing the feelings of a diminished status on campus.

We believe that it would be appropriate to hire staff to be in the José Martí room, whose purpose would be to connect students to on-campus resources. These would include Latinx specific alumni networking and scholarship opportunities for graduate school and beyond. The José Martí Room has the potential to function as a study space for the larger Amherst community if it had a staff person there to constantly have the space open and available to students. Currently, only members of the Executive Board of La Causa have access to the space and as students we can only set up so many open access hours for the room. The José Martí room has a plethora of archives and books relating to Latinx identity and political and cultural issues that would be a great resource of study for the larger Amherst Community. Limiting access to the José Martí Room to the executive board outside of general meetings takes away the opportunity to have a space on campus where all Latinx can convene at any time of the day, to study, hang out, or have spontaneous conversations that help foster an inclusive community on campus.

Considering that Latinxs are the most stigmatized part of the undocumented community, it is essential that the staff in the José Martí room are able to provide advice on how to navigate college life, in everything that it encompasses, as undocumented students. That means having visible resources on campus and online for both current and prospective students. A lack of resources for undocumented students has made it difficult to partake in formative experiences of being a college student. Navigating through study abroad programs and attempting to become involved in community engagement programs that are limited to federal work-study becomes nearly impossible to do for undocumented students.

Being an undocumented student of color at an elite, predominately white, and privileged campus creates its own layers of separation. We should be able to provide a safe space for undocumented students to talk about their experiences. Most of the time, these experiences are ignored or kept silent because of confusion, shame and sometimes even fear. We should attempt to eliminate the stigma that is carried with being undocumented. This should be treated as a legitimate issue and topic of discussion and an identity that should be recognized. It is not something that should be welcomed by the admissions office, but then swept under the rug once the student arrives to campus. We need to provide a space where the concerns undocumented students may feel about life at Amherst and post-graduation can be talked about freely and be advised upon.  It is crucial to have an advisor that provides administrative support for undocumented students both during their time here as students, but also when making plans for a life after Amherst. There needs to be visible resources that engage undocumented students from the time they arrive at Amherst and begin to think about different career paths, until the time comes to actually pursue those careers. These resources need to be visible and unstigmatized all around campus, not just in the Jose Marti Room. The staff of the Career Center, Financial Aid Office, Women’s and Gender Center, the Queer Resources Center, the Multicultural Resource Center, the Center of Study Abroad, etc., need to understand the intersectionality of these identities and how that affects student needs.

La Casa, the Latinx Culture theme house, needs its own space. La Casa currently shares the third floor of a largely “undesirable” dormitory in which the living space is not as conducive to studying or renovated or well-kept as other residence halls. Furthermore, Residential Life often fills vacant rooms with random people that did not choose to be a part of the theme house and therefore often do not care much in creating a community with everyone else. In order to foster an accepting and close-knit community that people would want to be a part of, it is necessary to have a space that is exclusively dedicated to the theme house. Having no say, or notice, of who will be living with the rest of the theme house also makes it seem as if La Casa is not being taken seriously. Our identity and self-worth are diminished by these living conditions and the lack of response to the needs of La Casa members. It has not been until recently that Residential Life even answered our emails or requests for improvements in Casa. Even so, improving the sense of community is still lagging, since the house is given a very small budget for House Projects, Cafe con Leche, and tea times that help foster a better sense of community.

Additionally, the curriculum of the Spanish department needs to be more inclusive of all Latin American countries. To be inclusive of more Latinx students, there not only needs to be broad classes that focus on countries other than Spain, but also a curriculum around the indigenous and black communities in these countries. Often times Latinx identities are viewed as a monolithic mass that is overrepresented by Chicanxs. Coming to recognize the importance and value of our identities as Latinx students begins with understanding the complexities and diversity of our identities, ethnically, culturally, racially, economically, and linguistically.

As students we also need to see clear steps being made towards the creation of a Latinx Studies Department. It’s necessary for Latinx Studies to have its own program, outside of scattered courses taught in a variety of departments. Since spring of 2014, La Causa has headed the movement towards creating a Latinx Studies Department. Unfortunately, due to administrative obstacles and hindrances the goal of ultimately having a Latinx Studies Department seems to have dissolved. We will be lucky to have a track within the American Studies or Spanish Departments. This is unacceptable. By not moving toward the development of an actual Latinx Studies Department, the Amherst College administration seems to be implying that Latinx Studies are not worth having. This goes on to imply that the Latinx experience and contributions to academia are insignificant and not worth examining on a scholarly level. Amherst’s inability to recognize the value in having a Latinx Studies department invalidates so many experiences within the Latinx community on campus. Furthermore, by not having a Latinx Studies Department, Amherst is conveying a message of disconnect from the college community and the nation as a whole, seeing as many other colleges throughout the US have already established Latinx Studies departments in their institutions. In addition to this, there are many students, Latinx and otherwise, that have shown an interest in classes that pertain to the Latinx experience. The few courses that are offered on this topic are almost always filled during registration and even getting into these classes is difficult. This shows a clear interest by the students in this area of study. By not helping create an independently functioning Latinx Studies department, Amherst College is demonstrating the great disconnect it has with its own students. As one of our Causa members, Lilia Paz ‘16, explained,

The lack of a Latino Studies Department seriously undermines the academic integrity of Amherst College. Latin@s now represent a fundamental aspect of the American experience. Latin@s don’t live and work invisibly, people interact with Latino culture every day whether they recognize it or not. A life of consequence is one of exposure to all cultures. Amherst College must correct this glaring omission.

In terms of hiring professors, there is a need for more Latinx faculty across all departments at Amherst College. Representation matters. A realization of shared experiences and struggles with Latinx professors allows Latinx students to have the potential of our futures materialize before our eyes. Besides this, it helps to have adults who have gone through similar experiences that students have gone through. It would make it easier to connect to faculty. The addition of more Latinx professors in other departments would make something as simple as office hours seem less intimidating, since professors would be more relatable.

Along with professors, there should also be an increase in the hiring of Latinx staff in the Counseling Center. Students who have visited the Counseling Center have had communication issues with the counselors that were helping them. Having to explain a certain experience or identity that is normal within the Latinx community to a counselor who isn’t hinders the entire purpose of a visit to the Counseling Center. If most of the time of a session is spent explaining things that are just a part of normal life to a Latinx student, then there is less time to deal with the actual problems the student is facing and needs help with. Therefore, it will take longer to get the student the help necessary to cope with whatever issues they are currently facing. By not having staff at the Counseling Center who fully understands the Latinx identity, the Counseling Center, to a Latinx student, will be considered useless and ineffective.

This is only a brief look at some of the most outstanding issues regarding our experiences as Latinx students on the Amherst College campus. There are many more things to be talked about in regards to the school’s ability to fully support the plethora of diversity that is encompassed by their student body.

We demand a complete publicized response from administration addressing each point made by November 15th. Additionally we require this response to include a concrete action plan to begin resolving our needs that will be implemented by December 4th, ensuring that students are a part of the process.

With respect,

La Causa E-Board Fall 2015:

Araceli Aponte ‘17

Araceli Alvarez ‘18

Eva Cordero ‘18

Jacqueline Chavez ‘16

Melina Dominguez ‘18

Melissa Laboriel ‘18

Juan Llamas ‘16

Alejandro Niño-Quintero ’18

Michelle Palencia ’16

Cristina Rey ‘18

Mikayla Ribeiro ‘18

Hugo Sanchez ‘17

Irma Zamora ‘17