“This is work that is ongoing. We continue to both advocate and support our students and educate the broader Penn community about the issues and the nuances of the Latinx community.”

Wharton Latino and La Casa Latina teamed up with the Wharton Undergraduate Division to organize and host the LatinX Student Forum, shortly after the conclusion of National Hispanic Heritage Month.

“It was an open conversation for students, staff, and faculty that are affiliated with Wharton, to come together and discuss the issues that have been particularly impactful for the Latinx student community, especially over this last year,” said Kareli Lizarraga, C’13, GEd’20, associate director for La Casa Latina.

Starting the Discussion

Students and staff shared their stories, thoughts, and feelings around uncertainty and isolation related to COVID, immigration policies that impacted international students, and the Presidential election.

“For many students who were not born and raised in the U.S., they were also alarmed about messages they had seen surrounding the election, such as staying inside and making sure they had groceries for at least a week,” Kareli said. “They asked if this was the norm for an election. We explained that for those of us who have grown up in the U.S., this was also a period of uncertainty that we had not experienced.”

“These topics were important to be discussed given that the pandemic and its effects have affected the Latinx community in distinct ways. It was a great opportunity for students to share how they were feeling/doing and to create a space for listening and support,” said Karen Herrara, W’21, an active member of Wharton Latino and La Casa Latina.

Finding Ways to Stay Connected

The Forum wasn’t the first virtual event for Wharton’s LatinX student community, and it won’t be the last.

“Since March when we went remote, we have offered programs on everything from anti-Blackness and police violence to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Latinx communities to addressing issues around access to resources for first-generation low-income students,” said Kareli.

Cultural resource centers in addition to La Casa Latina, such as Pan-Asian American Community House (PAACH), MAKUU: The Black Cultural Center, and the Greenfield Intercultural Center (GIC), play a monumental role in creating diverse communities and fostering a safe space and sense of home for students. When COVID forced the University to go remote, these community houses quickly pivoted and found creative ways to build community and stay connected virtually.

The Wharton forum presented another opportunity to touch-base and connect with students.

“It was really helpful as the interim director of La Casa Latina to hear what is impacting the students that we all support here at Penn, and what we can do to help them through this challenging time,” said Kareli.

“The event highlighted the challenges that our students are experiencing right now, but also the deep resilience and the deep commitment to each other. That was something that really stood out to me,” Kareli added. “Whenever students expressed a challenge that they were facing, other students were like ‘yeah, I very much empathize with that. I’ve also been experiencing that. And here are some of the things that I’ve been doing that I have found helpful. Here is something that I would suggest.’”

Identifying Next Steps

The discussion transitioned towards identifying next steps for students personally as well as for Undergraduate leadership as the hour-long session winded to a close. While students shared strategies to cope with negativity, the broader theme focused on ongoing work for the community.

“We will continue to both advocate and support our students and educate the broader Penn community about the issues and the nuances of the Latinx community,” Kareli said.

“Affinity groups within Wharton and larger umbrella organizations such as WEDIG are creating the foundation for a Wharton where all students have a sense of community and support,” said Karen. “While our conversation primarily served as a check-in for the Latinx community, I believe more conversations need to be had on how to make distinct members of the Latinx community (i.e. international students, national students, and students from different origins) feel that there is a place for them within Wharton.”

— Erin Lomboy, W’21

Posted: December 2, 2020

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