El Centro revival: an affinity space for Latinx students


El Centro is located in Martin Hall.

Mike Brown

From its beginning as a meeting place within Beardshear Hall to its conversion to storage space after being moved to Martin Hall in 2004, El Centro will be making it’s return on April 16.

El Centro began under an entirely different name of the Hispanic Resource Center (HARC) in the fall of 1992. The goal of HARC was to assist Latinx students of the time with academics, as well as a place for Latinx students to relax, learn about their resources and options on campus, and hold meetings.

HARC also acted as a place for the Latinx student organizations like Sigma Lambda Beta and Sigma Lambda Gamma to promote themselves and make new Latinx students aware of their presence on campus.

After multiple relocations over the course of the early 2000s HARC came to be called El Centro and was moved from Beardshear to Student Services, from Student Services to Helser, and finally from Helser to Martin Hall.

Eventually the student organizations who utilized El Centro began to outgrow the space, and it was for the most part converted into a storage space for different Latinx organizations.

Samuel Morales-Gonzalez, graduate hall director and graduate student in the school of education, is leading the effort of reviving El Centro, and Morales-Gonzalez spoke to the question he asked that led him to the conclusion to bring back El Centro.

“Why not create an affinity space where it’s identity driven, where a lot of these students have similar backgrounds or similar experiences?” Morales-Gonzalez said.

Morales-Gonzalez acknowledged the Multicultural Center in the Student Services building provides these things to multicultural students, but believes El Centro will offer specific benefits and advantages for Latinx students at Iowa State to foster relationships and build a community.

“There’s something about owning a space that brings a different feel of community and a sense of belonging at an institution like Iowa State,” Morales-Gonzalez said. “It creates a space that is your’s.”

Morales-Gonzalez explained while the Multicultural Center (MCC) does “a fantastic job”, El Centro is still an instrumental key in the experience of Latinx students at Iowa State.

“[El Centro] is very much different because identity plays such an important role with some of these individuals,” Morales-Gonzalez said “MCC is a start, but El Centro, at least my hope is to, bring something richer than that where you can connect with other individuals that are of the same identity as you at a different level, potentially.”

Morales-Gonzalez says El Centro will benefit Latinx students at Iowa State who come from a variety of different backgrounds and situations through offering identity based community.

“With an affinity space, with the research that I’ve done, you have that sense of belonging,” said Morales-Gonzalez “that’s very important as you move through college, especially if you’re a first generation student that hasn’t experienced college before, if you’re far away from home and home is not easily accessible, this is where you can create a family, and this is what I envision El Centro being.”

Morales-Gonzalez hopes to bring back El Centro as a meeting space for student organizations as well and hopes El Centro can be a specialized place for Latinx students who may not currently be involved on campus to learn about the resources and organizations they have available on campus.

“At the end of the day this is for students, and it was by a student for the students,” Morales-Gonzalez said.

Morales-Gonzalez also ensured all the student organizations who used El Centro as storage have not lost storage space, as he has been in contact with these student organizations, and they have obtained a new space nearby to store everything that was once stored in El Centro.

Morales-Gonzalez also spoke to the importance of diversity for Iowa State’s campus as a whole moving forward.

“I think diversity is such an essential role in a university setting because it not only allows for that exposure to occur for individuals that may not be aware of other identities or other cultures, and the hope is that they strive to learn more about those types of individuals and not just expect those individuals to be the teachers of their own culture,” said Morales-Gonzalez.

Morales-Gonzalez hopes his El Centro revival efforts will only be the beginning of further support for Latinx students on campus.

“After I graduate in May I want this to continue on. I want this vision and goal that I had coming here, that I envisioned, having an affinity space for students that identify as Latinx, to continue,” Morales-Gonzalez said, “this is just the start, this is truly just the start.”