El Centro expanded event coverage


Students and faculty gather in Martin Hall for the re-opening of El Centro on April 16. Graduate student Samuel Morales-Gonzalez led the effort to revive El Centro, a place where people who identify as Latinx and allies can gather.

Mike Brown

El Centro’s revival was a celebration of community and new beginnings, filling the space in Martin Hall with students, faculty, and administration, as well as conversation.

El Centro has been revived as an affinity space, an identity-based space where students who share a cultural background can build community and foster relationships and friendships based on these similarities.

El Centro began as the Hispanic Resource Center (HARC) in 1992 as a space for Latinx students to hold meetings, socialize, and learn about the resources and options available to them on campus.

Over time the HARC was renamed El Centro and was moved around: beginning in Beardshear, moving to Students Services, relocating to Helser Hall, until it finally settled in Martin Hall. It had become a meeting place for Latinx student organizations, who eventually outgrew the space and converted it into storage.

Guests were met with complimentary food as they entered El Centro, including Jeff’s Pizza, a fruit and vegetable platter and desserts. On the table in the center of the space were pencils and questionnaires for those in attendance to give their thoughts on El Centro’s future as a space in how it should be used, what many feel should be present in this space, as well as changes that they felt should be made to the space going forward.

Ruxandra Looft, professor of German and international studies and advisor for world languages and cultures, believes a space like El Centro is vital to the education and experience of students at Iowa State that may be interested in learning more about Latinx culture.

“The learning that happens outside of the classroom is always a lot more meaningful,” Looft said.

Chad Gasta, Spanish professor and department chair of world languages and cultures, spoke to the importance of having a physical space for Latinx students at Iowa State.

“In a lot of ways, a physical space gives an opportunity to connect people, and in this case it’s not just students and faculty or staff, but perhaps the community in the long term,” Gasta said.

Gasta also spoke to the importance a physical space brings to visibility and outreach for Latinx students on campus, saying it allows him and his department to be able to inform students who have a cultural or lingual connection to the space opportunities to connect and collaborate with other students or student organizations they may not have otherwise become aware of.

Accessibility was also an important issue discussed, as attendees felt it was important for Latinx students to feel welcome, and the room should be readily and easily available for students to come to and interact, hold meetings, and socialize.

Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion Reginald Stewart spoke to the importance of a space like El Centro to campus climate.

“Climate is driven by student engagement, and this is a very real manifestation of that,” Stewart said. “I think it’s quite joyous, to be perfectly honest.”

Topics that were discussed for the future of El Centro and the space included attendees wanting to see it become well represented and promoted to students on campus, and be a place where students can socialize but also learn more about Latinx student organizations on campus.

Diversity and Inclusion Project Director in Hispanic/Latinx Affairs Liz Mendez-Shannon hopes to see El Centro continue to bring people together and build community in the same way the opening event filled the space.

Mendez-Shannon hopes for El Centro to become a place where both students, as well as staff and faculty, can continue to collaborate and build relationships and community. Mendez-Shannon also hopes that El Centro can come to feel like another home for Iowa State’s Latinx population on campus.

Samuel Morales-Gonzalez, graduate hall director and graduate student in education, headed the revival of El Centro and thanked all those in attendance, the Department of Residence and the Multicultural Students Affairs staff for their collaboration in reviving El Centro as a space.

Mendez-Shannon was an early contact for Morales-Gonzalez in the process of reviving El Centro, and she spoke to the early goals and atmosphere surrounding El Centro’s revival.

Mendez-Shannon said when Morales-Gonzalez brought the idea to her, the goal was to bring further visibility and representation to the Latinx community at Iowa State, including students, faculty and administration. A long term goal of El Centro is to continue to grow the space.

Mendez-Shannon also said a goal for El Centro is to facilitate student involvement in the space.

“The goal is for [El Centro] to be student led and student run, to organize the space so that other student organizations can meet there to utilize the new space as a way to have a community, and to feel more welcomed and have the space to organize,” Mendez-Shannon said.

Morales-Gonzalez also spoke about his hopes for the future of El Centro moving forward and after his graduation.

“This is only the beginning. This is for the students, by the students. I’m really hoping to have someone step up and continue this legacy,” Morales-Gonzalez said.