The Duke University Latinx Cultural Center
Mi Gente was established in 1992 in an effort to organize the Latinx undergraduate body. Latino Student Recruitment Weekend was established in 1999 as a student initiative to diversify the student body. LSRW was created by Christopher Brandt, a past president of Mi Gente and Lambda Upsilon Lambda Hermano (with the help of the Mi Gente executive council of 1998-1999 and Latinx student body). Since its creation, Mi Gente has since provided the majority of the funding for LSRW. There has been only one admissions officer in charge of LSRW since 2011 with no additional staff assistance. She and the Latinx student body have worked tirelessly to put on LSRW for about 60-80 students a year.
Gaining the Mi Gente Office last year was progress, but certain caveats must be mentioned. This office was not a gift from administration, but the product of proposals, meetings, negotiations with administration and agreements with other cultural groups. Mi Gente, and other Latinx organizations have found this space to be invaluable to our daily functions, despite the size and its inability to accommodate our council during our meetings. At the forefront of the issues facing Mi Gente was the desire for adequate space, funding of the Latino Student Recruitment Weekend (LSRW), and faculty representation. Last semester, with the emergence of student activism nation-wide, particularly with the University of Missouri protesters, we were given the political climate necessary to mount the urgency of addressing this issue. This sparked a conversation that went far beyond the question of a cultural center (un centro), which is above all else, a symbol that we matter in this institution. These conversations culminated in the list of demands declared on November 20, 2015, and officially published on The Chronicle on January 26, 2016.
For the sake of clarity, Mi Gente has always supported LSRW. What we don’t support is a system that invests $25 million in an arts center before painting a better future for our community (footnote: we understand the expenditure as a Rubenstein donation, but that only raises the systemic issue of the Latinx community lacking that level of support. At best, ours is minimal). What we don’t support is the administration's reluctance to fund an event that by default, serves as a recruitment platform on behalf of the university. What we don’t support is how architecting this institution so it looks like a Hogwarts--that’s the reality-- but to prioritize its cultural organizations--that’s the fantasy.
Before the boycott, we heard past presidents and student leaders explain how they too have met with administration, holding onto promises that never went on paper, and so were never fulfilled. Mi Gente thus came into this boycott with this painful reminder of the unfulfilled promises from the university to our community. Upon releasing the statement, it was on the day the letter came out, Mi Gente had obtained a seat at the table with administrators.
Since its conception, this boycott was never intended to damage our community. We were cognizant of the risks of decreasing the incoming first-year class, but given the 23-year struggle and stagnation of these conversations, we saw this move as a necessary withdrawal from the exploitative relationship towards our community.
Our meetings with administration began on February 10th, 2016. We met with Dean Valerie Ashby, Vice President of Student Affairs Larry Moneta, and Provost Sally Kornbluth. These meetings proved to be fruitful, where each of our demands have been addressed and follow up meetings have been determined to discuss those that have not been addressed.
As a result of our demands, Mi Gente was able to establish funding for LSRW independent of the student organizational funds allocated towards our yearly programming. In this way, Mi Gente can refocus its energies to building community with the Latinx undergraduate population and admissions will continue to recruit those to enrich our community.
The biggest accomplishment of this boycott was the allotment of space for the Duke University Latinx cultural center in the Bryan Center and a Latinx staff member to oversee its execution. This cultural center will also serve the cultural, social and political functions of the greater Duke Latinx community, encompassing both undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni. This is a monumental moment for our community and we know that the alumni who fought for a similar space will be pleased to learn we have obtained it. This space will serve as the central location for our community, and those interested in Latinx culture, and a space where Latinx alumni can return to campus. While we’re pleased to have obtained a cultural center for our community, we cannot forget what we still have yet to obtain. Given how we constitute the fastest-growing demographic in the United States, we need the work of future Mi Gente members to continue to work for a bigger space--and more Latinx focused staff--that can adequately address the needs of our ever-expanding community.
Lastly, we want to thank, and ultimately congratulate, those who have contributed to this cause. Namely, the Mi Gente council, Mi Gente general body members, alumni, friends and family. We also want to thank the staff and institutions that have relocated in the effort to dedicate this space to the Duke Latinx population and the administrators that have heard our voices, and were willing to sit down and come to a consensus on what the issues were, and with whom we now have an ongoing relationship. Their reception to our testimonies does not go unnoticed. We are proud today that Duke is asserting that its Latinx undergraduate student population is more than just a statistic and deserving of space at this university.
Orgullosos, pero jamás complacientes,
Mi Gente Executive Council, 2015-16