El Centro Latinx organizó un evento con la Alianza Nacional de Campesinas el 10 de mayo. Credit: Cortesía del Instagram de el Latinx Center

In 2020, construction management junior Nina Tamayo made the “life-altering” decision to move from Calexico, her hometown just five minutes away from the Mexico border, to attend Cal Poly. 

She faced immense culture shock, she said, as well as imposter syndrome — a psychological occurrence when a person doubts their skills, talents and accomplishments —when she arrived at Cal Poly her freshman year. She said she felt out of place attending a predominantly white university because she was used to being surrounded by peers with a similar ethnic background her whole life.

“When I first got to Cal Poly, I didn’t know where to go or who to turn to as a Latinx student,” Tamayo said. “There was a list of resources, but I needed to find my community.”

Before this fall, there was no designated space for Latinx students to come together as a community, according to the Latinx Center coordinator Daisy Paniagua-Uribe. 

The Latinx Center opened at the start of the fall quarter as a space for professional, personal and academic support for Latinx students at Cal Poly, she said.

Room E-22 of the science building is now filled with socializing students, colorful serapes and flyers on the walls. 

“We have a space students can turn to,” Paniagua-Uribe said. “We’re building a community that strengthens the support that students have on campus and helps Cal Poly move forward in its culture of care.” 

While the Latinx Center is already up and running, it will have its official grand opening on Thursday, Nov. 10. The event will celebrate the center’s existence on campus and open conversations about what it means to be a Hispanic-Serving Institution, Paniagua-Uribe said. 

The center’s programming focuses on intersectionality and reflects the entire diaspora of the Latinx population, she said. During Latinx Heritage month this October, the center hosted “The State of Latinx,” an event to highlight the culture, stories and experiences of all groups and individuals that make up the Latinx community. Students, staff and faculty came together to engage in a discussion panel at the Chumash Auditorium. 

“The Latinx experience is not a monolith, and it was so beautiful to hear all the stories that makeup who we are,” Paniagua-Uribe said. “It just emphasized for me that I know I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”

The center has also hosted events in collaboration with campus partners, so students can seek help from Latinx faculty and have access to other campus resources. Recently, for example, the center hosted a mental health matters event with Dr. Ana Cabezas in partnership with Cal Poly’s counseling services. 

“We’re providing comprehensive resources and opportunities for students to engage with each other and with folks that they can lean on for additional guidance, while also celebrating our food, music, and culture through fun, interactive activities,” Paniagua-Uribe said. 

Paniagua-Uribe said she hopes for the center to build more relationships with campus partners. Currently, she is working on collaborating with the Mustang Success Center, as one of the center’s initiatives for Latinx students to have the tools to succeed academically. 

Another focus of the center is ensuring that student voices are being centered, according to Paniagua-Uribe. The student team will be finalizing details such as adding furniture, painting the walls and decorating before the grand opening.

Everything in the center needs to be done with intentionality, she said. So, the center’s team would like to incorporate the work from Latinx artists when it comes to decorating the space. 

The center’s team works to ensure every detail in the center is done with sincerity and care since Cal Poly has had a past of being under-resourced for Latinx students, she said.

In 2018, Cal Poly was ranked one of the nation’s seven worst institutions for Latinx student success in a list compiled by the Education Trust. 

Much more needs to be done for the Latinx community at Cal Poly, Student Diversity & Belonging (SDAB) Assistant Director Kristine Guzman and Paniagua-Uribe said. They not only want the center to be a home for Latinx students but also a place of growth to educate other communities at Cal Poly. 

Día De Los Muertos served as one of the center’s opportunities to bring individuals of different backgrounds together and educate them on the Latinx experience and culture, Paniagua-Uribe said. 

“Bringing all folks into these conversations and building more allies is a movement we want towards equity,” Paniagua-Uribe said. “We want to move in the right direction because there’s so much more room for growth at Cal Poly and the center.”

The center also wants to educate individuals on issues within the Latinx community such as the neglect of the diaspora, the history of anti-blackness and hyper-masculinity, according to Paniagua-Uribe. 

Paniagua-Uribe said she is excited about the progress made in the center so far and can’t wait to see how the center will prosper as a safe place for students.  

“I’m looking forward to more and more students coming into the space and it being a home away from home for them,” she said.

Guzman said she is proud of all the work the center is doing to elevate the voices and experiences of the Latinx community.

“I’m grateful to be in a time when we’re seeing these centers open up and grow,” she said.

The center on campus can be the meeting ground for other students going through the same experience as she did to find each other and receive support, Tamayo said. 

“I would have loved to have a space like the Latinx Center when I started as a freshman,” Tamayo said. “I can see this center acting as someone’s safe space on campus.”