Latino students celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month

Rebekah Alvey

A WKU organization will be celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month to provide students with real world experience and a way to showcase campus diversity.

Hilltopper Organization for Latin American Students, or HOLAS, will be hosting an event from 4-7 p.m. today on South Lawn to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which goes from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

Fabian Alvarez, HOLAS advisor and English professor, said HOLAS students were completely in charge of organizing the event which will feature aspects of Latino culture such as music, food and informational booths.

“It’s important that students have exposure outside what they’ve been exposed to so far,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez said the Latino population is proportionally low at WKU. Julie Rivas, minority teacher recruitment program coordinator, said the Latino population only makes up about three percent of the student population.

“There are not a lot of us,” Rivas said. Rivas works with recruiting minority students who are interested in teaching. She said the Latino student population is very diverse, coming from may different countries such as Columbia, Venezuela and Mexico.

For these students, Rivas said there are a lot of barriers. She said many Latino students are first generation and don’t have a role model or guidance through college admissions or experience.

Rivas said funding and scholarships are also difficult for some Latino students who may not have the right immigration status. The lack of funding makes it hard for some to pursue their career, Rivas said.

“It’s difficult when you don’t know what you’re doing or what college is like,” Rivas said.

Rivas said there is also a lack of representation in faculty and staff, which makes it hard for students to become connected with the community. Ultimately, Rivas said the lack of connection to a community is why some students don’t graduate from WKU.

HOLAS provides a support system to Latino students by providing opportunities for leadership positions and learning different skills, Rivas said. She said the group is also an advocate for social justice and participates in educating others and advocating for issues, such as DACA and immigration.

Senior Isabela Sachs said she learned about HOLAS through Alvarez her freshman year. Now, as president of the organization, she said HOLAS has been where she made all her friends.

“HOLAS is where I first felt accepted and embraced the Latino culture,” Sachs said.

In high school, as a Puerto Rican American, Sachs said she was in the minority and only had her families’ culture to learn from rather than friends in the Latino community. At WKU, she said diversity is more celebrated.

Sachs said this past year, HOLAS has teamed up with other international organizations and minority groups. She said HOLAS is planning a movie night with LGBTQ clubs to break the taboo between both groups. HOLAS is also working with Renters Rights groups to translate rights to the Latino community.

For homecoming, rather than each organization nominating their own person for homecoming queen, Sachs said HOLAS is teaming up with the Council of International Student Organization to nominate a candidate. She said it’s important for international groups to work together rather than isolating specific groups.

Through HOLAS, Sachs said she is working to better connect new and old members through a mentor program as well as reaching out to local high schools. She said it’s important for younger students to educate themselves so they can become leaders and a voice for the Latino community.

Sachs said helping these students visualize themselves at WKU is essential.

Even though the Latino population is smaller, Sachs said it is growing. However, many people are unaware of organizations such as HOLAS. When people do learn about the organization they become well integrated.

“The Latinos really get a sense of community within each other and we really do become a familia,” Sachs said.

Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].