As recent Latinx alumni of Duke University, we proudly support Mi Gente’s letter to the administration, “Duke without Mi Gente,” and its decision to boycott Latino Student Recruitment Weekend (LSRW). The carefully constructed demands include demands for a cultural center, a comprehensive plan to hire Latinx faculty and administrators, full funding for future recruitment weekends and public acknowledgement and apology for the lack of institutional support for Latinxs on campus. In addition to keeping these enumerated demands at the forefront of conversations between Duke’s administration and Mi Gente, it is also imperative to recognize that the list of demands is not exhaustive but rather the beginning of a series of necessary institutional improvements aimed at promoting the success of Latinx students at Duke.
Mi Gente is expected to exceed the role of a typical student organization, particularly in the expectation that it plans, funds and executes the recruitment of Latinx students. Since the first LSRW in 1998 and every year thereafter, Mi Gente has played a major role in coordinating three days of programming, meals as well as organized hosting assignments with current students on a budget that comprises a significant percentage of Mi Gente’s funds with minimal staff assistance. In recent memory, Mi Gente has used a minimum of 35 percent of organization funds to pay for the weekend. To truly understand the arduous assignment of organizing LSRW, it is important to note that Mi Gente begins planning for LSRW in the fall semester, regularly holding weekly meetings with student committee members and booking spaces. It is not that Mi Gente simply does not want to have LSRW, it is that the group, understandably, needs greater assistance in its planning and execution. Until they receive that assistance, we find Mi Gente’s stance to cease LSRW appropriate.
Throughout the years, LSRW has proven to be successful in the enrollment of Latinx students. The classes of 2018 and 2019 have both witnessed an at least 10 percent Latinx representation in their populations. We hope that Duke augments its support, in terms of funding and staff assistance, for LSRW but also for students once they arrive to campus. We want more faculty and staff that come from our communities and that have successful track records of mentoring Latinx students. We want a cultural space where students can host events, have a home to return to when they visit as alumni and, most importantly, feel that their identity as Latinx is legitimized and recognized by the University. As alumni, we hope to welcome future Latinx students to a Duke that is concerned not only with showing their faces on brochures but with their academic success and social well-being as well—a Duke that is dedicated to creating an inclusive and equitable learning environment with Latin-x students in mind.
Past student activism reminds us that the administration will simply not initiate meaningful institutional changes without first being motivated by fervent student adjuration and petition. In 2013-2014, Mi Gente’s council advocated for the University’s first ever Mi Gente office space. It took several emails demanding attention from administrators, a 14-page proposal and meetings with other student groups before we were penciled into administrator's schedules for meetings. Throughout this process, our concerns were largely met with ambiguous timelines and institutional inaction. This one vignette encapsulates two decades worth of activism from Latinx students that have been addressed at a glacial pace. Without challenging the administration, we would not have a Mi Gente office space today. As alumni, we cannot lose sight of the fact that bold student actions like those of Mi Gente’s are the reason why we have a Latino Student Recruitment Weekend in the first place. In the long tradition of Latinx student activism at Duke, history shows that obtaining resources for Latinx students means demanding them.
Furthermore, this letter is a reminder of the criticality of a supportive alumni community. We recognize that alumni may have had a very different range of experiences during their time at Duke and that, as a diverse group of individuals, their opinions and perspectives on the boycott will inevitably vary. Ultimately, however, the goal is to genuinely listen to the experiences and voices of current students, honor the critical thinking and civic engagement that underlie their collective action and understand the urgency with which they communicate their grievances. Given the power dynamics that are inherently involved when students critique the status quo, the first priority of alumni should be to protect and advance the work of current students and not to dismiss student activism without understanding the nature of social justice work on an elite, predominately white institution such as Duke.
As past Latinx students, we would like to express our unwavering support for the groundbreaking work that Mi Gente 2015-2016 is currently doing. We understand that unapologetic demands must be made to change the structure of an institution. We can look back at our time on campus with appreciation for our alma mater while also serving as honest critics. Duke needs to create a thriving and welcoming space for all students, including Latinx identifying students, and Mi Gente’s demands serve as reminders of the work ahead for students, administrators and alumni. We implore the University to meet Mi Gente’s demands in order to better serve the entire university’s mission “to promote a deep appreciation for the range of human difference and potential, a sense of the obligations and rewards of citizenship, and a commitment to learning, freedom and truth.”
Lizzeth Alarcon, Trinity ‘12
Jessica Alvarez, Trinity ‘15
Stephanie Amador,Trinity ‘13
Felicia Arriaga, Trinity ‘12
Vanessa Bermudez, Trinity ‘12
Amberlene De La Rocha, Trinity ‘14
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Angie Diaz, Trinity ‘14
Lili Fiorenti, Trinity ‘15
Kimberly Higuera, Trinity ‘14
Samantha Huerta, Trinity ‘15
Terry L. Jackson, Graduate School '13
Jason Maher, Trinity, ‘15
Roxana Martinez, Trinity ‘15
Jennifer Moreno, Trinity ‘15
Kimberly Reyes, Trinity ‘03
Natalie Robles, Trinity ‘14
Adam Rodriguez, Trinity ‘14
Biridiana Rodriguez, Trinity ‘13
Leasly Salazar, Trinity ‘15
Karina Santellano, Trinity ‘15
Walter Solorzano, Trinity ‘15
Rob Valdovinos, Trinity ‘13
Yvette Vazquez, Trinity, ‘14
Sarah Vega, Trinity, ‘14