Guest Opinion: New Unidos LLC set to empower UI Latinx community

UI student Alexia Sanchez used her college experience to help create 'Unidos LLC,' which will open in Fall 2020.

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Several weeks before the 2016 presidential election, I started at the University of Iowa as a first-generation college student — a start to a new and big chapter in my life. I set my educational goals and acclimated to my classes, but one thing I did not expect to do was learn to deal with anti-immigrant and anti-Latinx rhetoric permeating our news feeds and social spaces.

“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Those haunting words were chanted, spread, and promoted by neighbors, classmates, and others. Little did I know how this election would transform my experience as a Latina immigrant and first-generation college student.

Not only did I have to learn to navigate office hours, student loans, and time-management skills, I also had to armor myself with the necessary survival skills against the constant and painful bigotry our Latinx community faced.

In summer 2018, a Mexican immigrant became the primary suspect accused of murdering a local college student, which overwhelmed our news cycles and further fueled anti-immigrant sentiments.

Not only were students forced to face the death of a fellow student; Latinx students, in particular, were burdened with the additional weight of carrying the fear of our identity on our backs. As always, we were left to our senses to find a way to heal from the fear and anger that comes with being a scapegoat, so we reverted to recognizing the pride and strength that is our culture.

Angry Facebook posts, harassment in supermarkets, and “Build the Wall” banners took place in our daily lives as a constant reminder of how some portrayed Latinos. But despite these attacks, pain-inflicting comments, and ignorance our Latinx community has endured, we have remained unified.

The Latinx community on campus has set the bar high in terms of what it means to engage those who do not want to engage, to invite those that have never been invited, and to celebrate those that have never been celebrated. During my time on campus, I have learned first-hand how grassroots activism has built up and unified our community and created a movement which will transcend beyond the bounds of this University.

Latinx students at the UI currently stand as the majority-minority on campus. According to UI Admissions, 7.1 percent identifies as Latinx. This number has grown throughout the years and is expected to increase.

As the largest minority population on campus, students saw a need to continue to create spaces in which this community can foster a further sense of belonging on campus than that which the university already provides.

As a result of a student-driven initiative, Unidos Living Learning Community is set to open in fall 2020 for the incoming first-year class. Unidos, or “United” in English, is a name that holds significance and reflects the inspirational stories of former trailblazers who will continue to inspire future pioneers. Unidos LLC will serve to support and empower the Latinx community on campus through academics and culture.

University Housing & Dining, Residence Education, Center for Diversity & Enrichment, and the Latina/o Studies Minor are just a few of the campus partners who deserve recognition for their work to create and invest in the success of future generations. Each group has dedicated countless hours to design something remarkable for future generations of Hawkeyes.

Unidos LLC exemplifies the magic of what occurs when student advocacy and institutional support come together to serve student needs and enhance the student experience. What started as a 15-page Google document written between three students turned into a historic LLC proposal that would be approved by university administration and supported by many across campus.

The journey to create Unidos LLC has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my college career. From countless emails, early morning meetings, and long nights of development, every step of the planning process has been well worth it because future Hawkeyes will benefit from this community.

These past two years of planning have been filled with many noes, yeses, and maybes, a lot of student feedback, and much collaboration with faculty and staff. As a spring 2020 graduate, I will not have an opportunity to see the Unidos Living Learning Community come to life, but my excitement for the chance of future Latinx students to prosper and succeed is all the happiness I need.

—Alexia Sánchez, UI senior

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