The creator of “In the Heights,” Lin Manuel Miranda, once said “[If] you’re a Latino kid in a school that isn’t Latino … you either try to blend in or you overcompensate.”
Whether you find yourself in a big city, a campus in the middle of nowhere, or somewhere in between, it is comforting to find a group of people you never have to explain yourself to. Questions like “What is mangú?”; “How do you dance merengue?”; or “What exactly is Horchata de Arroz?” don’t come up. The inside jokes and the common experiences bring you closer together — faster than any other group of friends you may meet in college.
When I first got my acceptance letter to NYU, I knew that I wanted to join a group of students who were like me: Dominican, smart, and fun.
During my college career, I joined various clubs but found my home at Bella Quisqueya, the Dominican Student Association.
Finding my place through student life groups had a huge impact on my time in college. When I became president of the club as a junior, I learned the ins and outs of campus clubs pretty quickly.
Here are some tips you can keep in mind as you navigate your school’s opportunities and find or create the right niche for yourself.
What should you do before you arrive on campus?
Learn what opportunities your school offers by checking out your university’s student organization list. Take a look at the events the groups had held in the past. Ask yourself: “Do I see myself going to any of these activities?”
If you find a group or two that you are excited about, follow them on social media. This will be a good way to demonstrate your interest to the people you may be working with once you are on campus.
[email protected] groups come in many shapes and forms. Here are some group types you can explore:
General Interest [email protected] groups
[email protected] from different backgrounds come together and coordinate a wide variety of events. If you are looking for breadth, this group would be ideal for you. For example, the Latin American Student Organization of Northeastern offer events ranging from service to activism to discussion groups.
National/Regional [email protected] groups
These groups are for students who come from a specific country or region and host both educational and cultural appreciation events. Some examples include Bella Quisqueya, mentioned above, as well as Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán at Arizona State University.
Multicultural Greek life
Certain fraternities and sororities specifically catered to the [email protected] community. These groups do not exclude [email protected] members. Instead, they focus on addressing issues that interest the larger [email protected] community through events and philanthropy. Some examples of these Greek organizations are the Lambda Theta Phi fraternity, which was the first Latino fraternity in the U.S., or Lambda Phi Chi sorority, also known as Latinas Promoviendo Comunidad.
Some campus groups focus on providing [email protected] networks and opportunities for specific career paths, such as the Society of Hispanic Engineers or The Association of Latino Professionals in Finance or Accounting.
Community service groups
These volunteer clubs seek to assist the [email protected] community. For example, Niños Cambios Puertas at Washington University in St. Louis provides tutoring and mentorship to [email protected] in the St. Louis community.
Some organizations focus on activism surrounding larger issues of interest to the [email protected] community. For example, The Stanford Labor Action Coalition, which is part of Stanford’s El Centro Chicano, strives to improve labor conditions for the university’s service workers. The Coalition for Immigration Reform, Education, and DREAMers at Dartmouth works to advocate for undocumented students.
Lots of campus groups focus on celebrating [email protected] heritage through artistic performance. The most popular focus is on Latin dance, but other types exist as well. For example, Yale offers ¡Teatro! De Yale, a theater troupe focused on performing plays from [email protected] dramatists.
What should you do once you’re on campus?
Go to the club fairs and meet members from different organizations you are interested in. This will give you a better idea of what kinds of events and activities the groups do. Sign up on the email list to get more information about upcoming events.
Once you’ve narrowed down the groups that interest you, attend the events they host and build a relationship with members. It’s natural to feel nervous when you attend your first activity. Know that other new members probably feel the same way.
Make the most of getting involved. Attend events that are out of your comfort zone, and learn about different subjects. College-educated [email protected] are here to change the world! You can start exploring the opportunity of taking a larger leadership role in the group by asking members of the executive board for advice. In general, talking to upperclassmen is a great way to get more information about [email protected] culture on campus, from which restaurants serve food that taste like home to which professors you should consider studying with.
What if my school doesn’t have a [email protected] group I’m interested in?
Make one! Each school has a policy on starting clubs. Contact the student activity office, and learn how you could start your own club.
If you are embarking on the process of creating a new group, here are some tips to consider:
Gauge interest in your new group by reaching out to people who may be interested in getting involved. Make sure you have an idea that a number of people can get behind. Find out who is interested in helping you by taking on a leadership role.
If your school already has some [email protected] groups, or partner groups that your members may be interested in, make sure your meeting times do not interfere.
Co-sponsoring events is a great way to spread awareness about your new group. You can partner up with other existing [email protected] organizations on campus or with other general interest groups as well.