Similar to Alexandra Villasante-Fricke who was President during 2007-08, we were saddened to read “Duke without Mi Gente,” but not for the same reasons. We were disappointed to see that Mi Gente and Duke’s Latin@ students are facing the same struggles that we encountered during our term as Co-Presidents in 2011-12. The cyclical nature of the institutional history of a university is partially to blame, but it should not be used as a cover for self-chosen institutional amnesia.
We are writing to express support towards Mi Gente’s demands and in particular their desire to cease the “collaboration” with the admissions office to organize the Latino Student Recruitment Weekend and to increase support towards the Latino/a Studies Program and the Latin@ student body.
During our time, we discussed our discontent with the organizational procedures of LSRW. We noticed that not only was almost half of our yearly budget dedicated to the recruitment weekend but also the large amount of labor that we were supposed to put into the organization and running of the recruitment weekend. We understood the double bind. If we did not do it, the recruitment weekend would not happen and that would mean fewer Latin@s at Duke. However, this is an unfair position to place a student organization in. It should not be the responsibility of the students to recruit new students for the University, especially when there is an entire office dedicated to it.
We also recall the ambivalence we felt during the weekend. We felt that we were deceiving the prospective students by showing them a university that supported them and valued them. While greeting them with smiles, we joked about telling them to choose in advance which semester they will take off due to financial or psychological reasons. The dark joke reflected the reality of many of our classmates, some of who were not able to graduate on time or had to drop out. We do not mean to imply that the University is the sole reason for such struggles, but we do want to point out the lack of institutional support to help us deal with such issues.
During our term, one of our main avenues of support was the Program in Latino/a Studies, but we also remember the University’s negligence towards the program and the battles the program had to endure in order to survive. It is not enough to have a program with limited staff and institutional support and then ponder why it is not flourishing. Support of the program could have demonstrated commitment towards the Latin@ students. However, we do remember the intellectual, communal, emotional and financial support that the Program in Latino/a Studies provided us despite its one-person staff and limited resources.
We are glad that Mi Gente finally adopted a firm stance for we also remember our lackluster interactions with the administration, which were filled with unfulfilled promises aimed at appeasing our demands. We would be granted meetings in which we presented ideas that eerily resemble the list presented by Mi Gente only to have them suffocated with the same bureaucratic excuses and unanswered emails. We hope that through the recent demands the Latin@ student body is taken seriously instead of as only a number to bolster the competitiveness of the University. In addition, we hope for the betterment of the University that this conversation does not become part of Duke’s institutional amnesia.
Fernando Revelo La Rotta, Trinity ‘13
Betsy Santoyo, Trinity ‘14