“A Place to Call Their Own"--New Center for Latinidad Provides Welcoming Space for Students

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An atmosphere of excitement and community filled the air as nearly 100 students, faculty, and staff gathered in the Student Center on Tuesday, September 21 to celebrate the grand opening of the Center for Latinidad on the William Paterson campus.

The new Center, located in Student Center 209, was established to provide an affirming space for Latinidad students and enhance awareness of the cultural wealth and resiliency of the Latina/o/x identity, experiences, and voices. It will be managed by students, for students.

“I have been saying for some time that our designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution is one of our greatest distinctions as a University,” said President Richard Helldobler. “But I have also said it is not enough to simply be a Hispanic-enrolling institution. We must truly live up to the name and be, in every respect, a Hispanic-serving institution. The Center for Latinidad is a significant step toward fulfilling that commitment.”

To watch a video of the event, click here

Idida Rodriguez ’86, a founding partner of 1868 Public Affairs and a new member of the University’s Board of Trustees, was also on hand to offer her congratulations on the opening of the Center. “This will be a special place, where the richly diverse Latinidad community of students—including many first-generation students—can come together to connect and learn from one another and to access resources to support them socially and academically,” she said. “This support is crucial to ensuring that every student feels they are a valued member of the University community.”

The establishment of the Center was a central recommendation of the University’s Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) Task Force, a committee of faculty, staff, and students that was charged by President Helldobler with understanding the Latinx student experience and making recommendations for institutional change. More than one in three of the University’s students claim Hispanic heritage.

“Among the variety of comments, suggestions, and requests (from students), one that stood out was a space, a center to call their own…a space where they could feel at ease, acknowledged, and appreciated,” said keynote speaker Francisco Diaz, associate vice president for student development and a William Paterson alumnus who chaired the HSI Task Force. “Today, we have answered the call of many before us who believed in the need for such a center.”

Diaz, who earned a bachelor’s degree from William Paterson in 1986 and a master’s degree in 1988, described the opening of the Center as an “auspicious moment” for the University, shared his personal story as the son of immigrants from Cuba, and his early years on the William Paterson campus. The first among his brothers to attend college, he talked about the important role that one club, the Organization of Latin American Students, played in helping him find his voice and a community of students “as we sought ways to express our culture and ourselves.”

“The decades that followed saw much growth in Latinx students at William Paterson and many new student groups and Greek-lettered organizations who supported and emphasized Latin roots, but many still expressed a need to find a space to connect with others,” he said. “I wish the very best to the current and future students who will avail themselves of all that the Center for Latinidad will lead, imagine, and bring to them for years to come.”

Miki Cammarata, vice president for student development, thanked Francisco Diaz for his dedication to the University’s students and also added her congratulations. “The Center for Latinidad was born out of deep and thoughtful research and discussion about what a Hispanic-serving institution should look and feel like,” she said. “Along with our other centers, (it) will provide opportunities for all members of the University to further understand and appreciate how diversity enriches and strengthens our community.”

Yolany Gonell, director of student diversity and inclusion, will provide oversight for the Center for Latinidad, which is under the auspices of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Among the Center for Latinidad’s signature programs are the Conexiones Support Group, a partnership with Counseling, Health and Wellness for students navigating cultural barriers, and Adelante Pathways, a peer mentorship program open to all students that will focus on academic success, personal development, civic engagement, and health and wellness.

“Latinidad (solidarity) is experienced through language, music, art, customs, and traditions,” said Gonell, who described herself as a proud “Latina with a master’s degree and 17 years of experience in higher education.” Adding that “it’s not always easy being Latina, when I am in the Center for Latinidad, I am surrounded by familia and a community of allies…I am seen…I am heard…I am valued.”

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Photo caption: Present at the ribbon-cutting for the grand opening of the Center for Latinidad are (left to right) Myranda Barreau, assistant director, student diversity and inclusion; Francisco Diaz ’86, MA ’88, associate vice president for student development; Kimberly Pena ’21, member, HSI Task Force; Idida Rodriguez ‘86, member, University Board of Trustees; President Richard Helldobler; Miki Cammarata, vice president for student development; Anisa Kamara ’23, president, Student Government Association; Wilnell Martinez ‘21, member, HSI Task Force, and Yolany Gonell, director, student diversity and inclusion