“Empowerment.” That’s the word Public Policy senior Yvonne Navarrete used to describe her experience as a Latina woman at the University of Michigan. Last year, Navarrete worked as the lead director of La Casa, a student organization and advocacy group dedicated to uniting Latinx students at the University. She now works as an undergraduate adviser for the organization.

Tuesday night marked the beginning of Latinx Heritage Month at the University, and over 200 students, faculty and staff attended the opening ceremony in the Michigan League ballroom.

Navarrete was one of many volunteers from La Casa who attended the ceremony and described her personal process of become a student leader on campus.

“It’s all about coming into a space that’s not historically created for your people or those with similar identities as you and being able to bring your community in,” Navarrete said. “You do that not just for yourself, but the students coming after you. That’s really what La Casa has been doing since its creation and through Latinx Heritage Month: creating those spaces so that Latinx students can feel included and represented, feel at home, and not only that they belong on campus, but that they are a part of campus. They are what makes the University of Michigan great.”

The event included opening remarks from University President Mark Schlissel in which he emphasized the importance of protecting historically marginalized communities. He highlighted the need for communication and openness on campus.

“I assure that we will continue to work with all of you and your leaders this year and into the future, trying to understand how best to serve you as students,” he said.

The ceremony also featured Catalina Ormsby, managing director of the National Forum on Higher Education, Ethriam Brammer, assistant dean and DEI implementation lead at Rackham Graduate School, and LSA junior Alex Mullen, internal director of La Casa.

Mullen discussed how important Latinx Heritage Month is for students on campus and the Latinx communities in Ann Arbor. In addition to the opening ceremony, La Casa is organizing events featuring Latinx professors and guest speakers such as Prof. Ruth Behar and Prof. Ashley Lucas.

The Center for Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and La Casa are working collaboratively to feature more than 20 events over the next month. This collaboration marks progress from last year’s boycott organized by La Casa against MESA, claiming they overlooked Latinx students on campus.

La Casa Lead Director Lesley Rivas, an LSA junior, explained how La Casa works to uplift Latinx students at the University.

“We try to give leadership opportunities where they can learn about their history, learn how to be activists on campus and how to take initiative,” she said. “The Latinx Heritage Month this year is really a product of many months of really hard work put on by students, staff and faculty, in contrast to last year when our heritage month wasn’t prioritized. This month we really emphasized the fact that we matter on campus, our community is a priority, especially right now because of how the families and students here are being impacted by everything politically, namely Trump’s administration and negative media portrayal.”

LSA sophomore Yosabeth Guerrero explained how she is continuously thankful for the community she has become a part of and the support it provides her.

“Being Latina means I’m able to represent my culture and be with people who look like me, people with the same skin tones and with the same practices and traditions,” Guerrero said. “It’s important, especially on this campus because it is a PWI, predominantly white institution, so when we get together, we form a coalition in order to provide a better support system amongst ourselves as a marginalized group on campus. I feel like I’m back home.”

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