Responding to calls from students, California State University, Dominguez Hills officially opened the Latinx Cultural Resource Center (LCRC) in January, joining other campus affinity centers such as the Rose Black Resource Center and the Queer Culture & Resource Center.
“We’re here to build community, hear the needs of our students, and connect with them,” says the center’s interim director, Rony Castellanos Raymundo.
Chicano/a Studies major Janneth Najera was the driving force behind the push to establish a Latinx Center on campus. Janneth worked with faculty, staff, and community members to make sure the center came to life,” according to Castellanos Raymundo. “It’s thanks to her and her fellow students that we have a Latinx Center today.”
Najera, who has been hired as the center’s student assistant, is a returning student whose commute from the Burbank area made it hard for her to connect with other students. “It was difficult because there wasn’t a center point for us to meet,” she says. “DH is over 60% Latinx, so there’s a lot of us, but everybody’s going about their own business. Connecting with other students was hard.”
During a Chicano/a Studies class, Najera asked her professor where the CSUDH Latinx center was, only to discover that none existed. “I felt a little disconnected,” she says. “I started asking how could we go about getting a center?”
With a bit of guidance from Chicano/a Studies Department Chair Corina Benavides López, Najera “started doing a lot of research,” she says. “I started visiting the other centers on campus and having discussions with the students there, asking how their centers came about.”
The campus’ large population of first-generation college students is one of the main reasons Najera felt that a resource center was needed. “For first-gen students, this process is very new,” she says. “Our parents are working and they support our dreams and our aspirations, but they may not have all the tools, like understanding financial aid or academic services. We step into college with a lot of questions. DH has amazing resources for students, but you can’t use them if you can’t find them.”
“It’s also important to show students that there are faculty and staff who look like us, have similar backgrounds and experiences, that have been through the process and have successfully accomplished the goals that we’re striving for,” she continues. “The LCRC will be a space where we can do that, with resources and tools to help us overcome those challenges as first-generation students, or as minority students in an institution that can take a lot of maneuvering through.”
Armed with the background research they needed, Najera and several other students formed a group they called El Comité (The Committee). Meeting over coffee or snacks at various spots on campus, they drew up a proposal for an LCRC. El Comité officially presented their proposal to William Franklin, Vice President of Student Affairs, in February 2020.
“It’s so important to implement what we learn in our communities, but we need a place to connect us. A cultural resource center is a place to do that. A lot of our proposal was centered on that,” says Najera. “We want to be able to connect with community members. We want our parents to come to campus and understand the tools and resources they need in their language. To feel safe and to feel proud. To walk into a room and see their flag hanging, or to see a mural of their home country.”
Franklin was impressed by the passion he saw on display during their presentation. “While efforts were already underway to bring a Latinx Resource Center to campus, my resolve to make it happen much sooner was catalyzed by the meeting organized by Janneth and El Comité,” he says. “I was not only moved by the conversation we had that evening; the proposal that followed was most impressive.”
Once the proposal was approved, Najera and her fellow students started to work on plans for an on-campus space for the center. Unfortunately, their planning was soon cut short. “The week after the proposal was the last week we were allowed on campus. The next week we got the notice that we were going to go virtual, and then we’ve just never gotten back.”
Even without a physical space on campus to call their own, the LCRC has been pushing forward. Castellanos Raymundo was hired as interim director in November 2020, and the center’s first slate of virtual events started up in February. They have been very active online, hosting weekly community check-ins, workshops, webinars, movie screenings, and a weekly Virtual Lobby where students can drop by to chat or hang out.
“Right now, there’s no physical space due to COVID-19,” says Castellanos Raymundo. “We’re at home, but the events that come out of the center are geared to bringing people together. Hosting virtual events creates opportunities for anyone who wants to be connected and build community with the center.”
The center’s goal is to have a physical space on campus by the time students return full-time. “Hopefully by next fall, we’ll have an official space that we can inaugurate,” says Najera.
Castellanos Raymundo is excited to get the center up and running. “I think that identity work and cultural work is really important to our students’ college journey. A lot of it has to do with a sense of belonging. The DH campus is special because our students do their best to be connected to the university.
“Due to their work schedules or their commute, some students will just attend classes and then go home. But if they feel that they belong, that they’re not just attending university, they take more pride in what they’re doing. It’s so important for students to feel seen, to feel connected, and to feel that they’re part of something larger.”
For Najera, her work getting the LCRC approved has impressed her with the importance of student-led campus movements. “I think as students, we often forget how much power we have, because we’re busy trying to pass classes,” she laughs. “But we are the heart of the campus, we are the strength of the campus, and I think more and more students should feel empowered to come together and arm themselves with research, arm themselves with an understanding of what it is they really want.
“We wanted to have a better educational experience, not just for us, but for future generations. This was all student-led. We didn’t have a template, either! Our campus is where it’s at based on student activism, and taking that history and knowing that history is really important.”
The Latinx Cultural Resource Center hosts Virtual Lobby Hours on Wednesdays from noon until 1 PM and on Wednesday evenings from 6 PM until 7 PM. To drop in, visit Zoom ID: 654 571 7717, and enter the passcode csudhlcrc. For more information, contact Rony Castellanos Raymundo at (310) 243-2519, or via email at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. They are also on Instagram @csudhlatinx.