On the night of Oct. 24, I received an unexpected call from my friend, Columbia University freshman Cat Sposato. After we exchanged a few quick words, I received an email with the header “Alianza Help.” The email was sent to garner support for Alianza, Columbia and Barnard’s only pan-Latinx organization on campus, which had just been denied recognition by the Activities Board at Columbia.
Alianza’s mission is to unify underrepresented Latinx students on campus who feel that they do not belong elsewhere. In the email, Alianza asked for letters of solidarity from student groups to show their support for both Alianza and its members who are a part of that community. I quickly hung up the phone and proceeded to forward this email to Penn’s Latinx Coalition to see if it could help out by writing a letter of solidarity.
It didn’t stop there. The email was sent to other similar organizations at peer institutions. As soon as I forwarded the same email to my friend at Harvard University, I was astounded when she said that various student groups had already been informed. This flood of inter-Ivy support — which included Black, Asian-American, Chicano, women, and LGBT student groups — showed solidarity that proved the significance of having an organization like Alianza.
Over the next couple of hours, letters of solidarity were created throughout the night. A compilation of all of them can be seen in a Huffington Post article that shows the countless student groups that helped Alianza’s efforts to overcome obstacles for representation and receive funding.
Students gravitate toward people and places they feel most comfortable with and supported in. During our time in college, we find ourselves in many classes, clubs, organizations, and programs where we can find our support system. It takes some time to find these places, and peoples’ needs can change over time. However, we must come together in these times to support one another when no one wants to recognize us and make sure that our various cultural communities are valued on campus.
Without any prior knowledge, people might say that this issue was blown out of proportion. However, representation is very important to have if you are a person of color at a predominantly white institution. On behalf of students like me, I am grateful for organizations like La Casa Latina and Penn’s Latinx Coalition on campus. I, and many others, rely on resources found in these organizations, such as a sense of community and students like me, to be able to survive and thrive in environments like Penn.
Minorities often come from backgrounds that offer fewer resources than those of more affluent students. Just imagining that groups like Penn’s Latinx Coalition and Alianza would even be challenged is ridiculous. Of course, there are guidelines and protocols to officially recognize a group based on many different factors — student membership being one of the most important.
Yet, even with the sizable student population at Alianza, there is still pushback to recognize a group that helps address the intersectionality of the different identities that many Latinx students possess: “to be afro-latinx, to be queer, first-generation, undocumented, low-socioeconomic status, disabled, and an immigrant.” On the other hand, there are clubs with only one or two members that automatically get approved. This directly challenges the sentiment students feel when they come to campus as prospective students and all they hear about is how can easily they can start student groups.
Fortunately, the next day, Alianza was recognized by the Activities Board at Columbia after going through the appeal process. I was ecstatic when I found out. Moving past the first phase of recognition, this will help Alianza to craft a budget and secure funding, which is vital in supporting the group’s mentoring initiatives for low-income students in the Bronx and Harlem.
Everyone has a place on their campus, even if it might take some time to find it. Sometimes, that place can change. Or it might not even exist yet. The struggle for representation often comes with obstacles, but when we see others fighting, that is when we need to step up. Being silent only perpetuates the issue. This is why allies are so crucial in the process. Even if it's 1 a.m., we should pick up the phone and get ready to work.
CARLOS ARIAS VIVAS is a College freshman from Stamford, Conn., studying communication. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Convos with Carlos” usually appears every other Tuesday.
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