Our demands, our voice

guest column

The Latinx community at Duke has a rich history spanning decades. Yet, Latinx students have time and time again reported feelings of otherness or invisibility during their time at Duke. The creation of many Latinx organizations on campus was to combat these feelings and provide a safe space for the Latinx community. However, according to the Campus Climate Survey, Latinx students and staff still face microaggressions and feel uncomfortable on campus. The driving forces behind these sentiments lie much deeper within the structure of the university as a whole. As a result, in 1997, 2003, 2005 and 2016, students have published demands to hold administration accountable. The milestones and history of the Latinx community can be seen in the new Perkins exhibit Our History, Our Voice: Latinx at Duke. Although there have been great wins for the community, such as the creation of La Casa, these were rarely what the students demanded and have proven insufficient.

Our presence on Duke’s campus is constantly stifled or even unwanted, mitigated only by the courageous Latinx students fighting to bring our community to the surface. For the first time, Latinx organizations at Duke have all united to further the interests of the Latinx community. These “demands” serve as accountability for the many times Latinx students tirelessly advocated for a more equitable campus. They are hardly demands, they are a plea for the respect and acknowledgement of marginalized students. Thus, we demand:

  1. We demand Duke establish a Latinx cultural center on campus. This request has been echoed by many other cultural groups on campus and by the Latinx community specifically for almost two decades. Dozens of other similar caliber universities have a space dedicated to cultural identity. These include Yale College, University of Southern California and many others. While marginalized students are grateful for the current CMA, it stands out of sight from the public. The basement of the Bryan Center is hardly effective at establishing community. We are at the bottom of Duke’s priorities both physically in the Bryan center and in practice on the administration's agenda. This proposed center must have dedicated staff and coordinators, along with a space for Latinx organizations to host meetings and events. 
  2. We demand that co-chairs of Latino Student Recruitment Weekend (LSRW) receive payment, as well as LSRW become fully funded from outside Latinx organizations’ annual budget. While admissions plays a role in LSRW, it ultimately still falls on Latinx student organizations to advertise, plan, and coordinate this event. Students work long hours – longer than full time jobs – yet rarely receive recognition from Duke University (or payment for that matter). Duke expects its marginalized students to work for free, despite having an entire office dedicated to this
  3. We demand Duke establish a permanent, easily accessible fund for Latinx organizations’ graduation, stoles, and awards. As it stands, much like LSRW, student organizations are primarily responsible for celebratory programming. Organizing these events takes time and valuable resources from Latinx organizations’ budget, leading to a domino effect that pushes other possible programming aside for Latinx students. Rather than reapplying for funds every year, Duke should establish a streamlined process for Latinx organizations to receive funds for these activities.  
  4. We demand Duke University increase Latinx faculty and staff representation. Increasing Latinx representation in faculty and staff will create a safer and more equitable experience for Latinx students. This should be done in an equitable manner that ensures new hires have paths for promotion and tenure for faculty. For example, there are no Latinx therapists/psychiatrists in CAPS, a center designed to better the mental health of students. This is contradictory as it leaves out an entire demographic of students that historically struggle to adjust in a predominantly white institution. This has been brought to the attention of several members in administration from students, staff and alumni. Despite this, the call for equitable learning and mental health opportunities continues to be stifled and ignored since the original demand in 2005. 
  5. We demand Duke create a Latinx studies department, including a major and minor. Duke University must expand Latino/a studies in the Global South beyond a certificate program. Students should not have to travel to UNC thirty minutes away to participate in a Latinx studies department. Establishing a department will increase representation and allow progressive work to be done surrounding issues the Latinx community faces. 
  6. We demand Duke reinstate merit scholarships specific to international Latin American students. As Duke is not need-blind for international students, attending Duke is a heavy financial burden for any students who wish to apply internationally. Merit scholarships specific to prospective Latin American students once encouraged them to attend Duke; however, that is no longer the case as this money has become part of a greater international scholarship fund. To gain a better global perspective and increase Latin American representation on campus, Duke should reinstate these targeted merit scholarships. 
  7. We demand that Duke hire diverse and multilingual financial aid staff. Finances are a particularly sensitive topic. Students on financial aid deserve to have their family members stand alongside them in this stressful negotiation process. Parents and family who do not speak English but wish to be involved deserve a chance to communicate directly with financial aid. Multilingual staff is a necessity for families to understand and consent to the financial obligations incurred through attending university. It is an ethical necessity for this to be implemented. We demand Duke ensure that there is adequate multilingual and diverse financial aid staff that can properly assess and fill the needs of Latinx students. 
  8. We demand Duke increase admissions office recruitment in highly Latinx parts of cities. Latinx student enrollment at U.S. colleges and universities has had the largest increase compared to white, Asian, Black and Native students since 2000, and yet Duke University has seen a consistent decrease in Latinx enrollment during the past four years. While Latinx is the largest marginalized group in the country, we remain one of the smallest demographics on campus and believe efforts need to be made in recruitment to attenuate this. Oftentimes, Duke caters admissions towards wealthier, less-diverse areas, thus enforcing that Duke is not “meant” for Latinx students and alienating our community further. Duke must establish admissions recruitment in more diverse areas, regardless of socioeconomic status. 
  9. We demand a President’s Council on Latinx Affairs. The members of the Duke administration have previously made several decisions that directly impacted the Latinx community, many of which were done without the input of the community itself. We demand a President's Council on Latinx affairs so the voices of Latinx faculty, staff, alumni and students can come together to help resolve the issues faced daily by the community. This council would be a long-awaited response to ensure ideas of the Latinx community, including the previously stated demands, are no longer swept under the rug or forgotten by administration. 

In the past, Duke University has promised advisory councils, made hires and expanded space since the Latinx demands released in 2016. But what tangible effects do these policies truly make for the quality of life of Latinx students on campus? Duke continues to create what they posit as “change” by instilling cheap, easy solutions that either fall short of what was asked or were not asked for in the first place. These decisions by administration lack student input, fall apart and oftentimes make Latinx students feel even more alienated. Students on campus are not satisfied, and know that these action statements are used to appease and silence the demands of students.

The demands above are the bare minimum for Latinx students to thrive within the Duke community. Latinx students comprise a little over 7% of the student population. Latinx organizations service over 14% of the first-year population and educate the wider Duke community as a whole. When Duke ignores these demands, it ignores the decades of history within this community and belittles the student population. In this historic time, the Latinx organizations of Duke University stand together to defend the greater Latinx community. It is time for Duke to be held accountable for the demands that the Latinx community makes; for this reason, the demands and their progress will remain visible to the Duke community in Perkins as part of the exhibit. Regardless of the status of these goals, we demand Duke establish a plan to follow ALL these demands to fruition in a transparent, ethical and effective way that will prioritize student, faculty and staff input.


Latinx Organizations Coming Together:

Mi Gente

Latin American Student Organization

Brazilian Student Association

La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda, Rho Chapter

Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Zeta Mu Chapter

Latinx Business Organization

Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers

Latinx/a Women’s Alliance 

Define America

For the full list of demands, please click here.

To show your support, please sign our petition at: https://www.change.org/latinx-student-demands


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