I was Co-President of Mi Gente during the 2007-08 year, and I came up with the idea for and executed the Latin Chic Library Party (yes, I helped make library parties "a thing"). I was saddened to read "Duke without Mi Gente." Although I think that the goal of a Hispanic/Latino cultural center at Duke is an important one, I disagreed with the tone of the letter. As President, I did not find it helpful to make "demands." Instead, I exuded a contagious excitement for my idea, and I met with leaders all across the campus and got them excited about it too—and I raised thousands of dollars in order to make this beautiful idea come to life. Over 2,000 guests (students, professors, staff) from all walks of life were present at the party, dancing, laughing and learning.
I am confident that Duke University could get behind this goal because it is not just good for Hispanic/Latino students but for the whole University. I think that the best approach to take is to show Duke how a center like this will benefit the whole campus. I recommend starting a fundraising campaign, contacting alumni and Duke donors and persuading them to donate towards this goal. Outline your goals for this center, and your plan to accomplish it. Students must be willing to to put some skin in the game and not just expect Duke University to foot the bill.
Maybe I was naive, but I always felt like any other Duke student, regardless of my name or complexion and that I had access to campus resources as an individual and as a campus group leader. In 2008, I helped plan the Duke Cuba Conference through the Cuban-American Student Association, and we were able to utilize multiple places on campus and host over 200 students from other universities. I am confident that there are avenues to make this cultural center a possibility.
I do recognize that I have been away from campus for six years and that there may be more back story here that I am missing. I also acknowledge the right of the student group to refuse to dedicate their time and effort towards recruiting for the University when they feel that they are not receiving the same loyalty in return. I am saddened that there are students who feel ignored. My advice to the current leadership of Mi Gente is that you will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Alexandra Villasante-Fricke, MD