By Dawn Neuses
DAVENPORT, Iowa — A diverse group of students have created a community at St. Ambrose University, a place where they can excel and share their culture as members of the first LULAC Collegiate Council in Iowa.
The SAU council was chartered in April 2015 with a mission to further equality and social justice and to promote voter education, registration and rights. It is one of just 23 college councils in the United States.
LULAC, or League for United Latin American Citizens, is the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights organization. Its volunteer members work to empower Hispanic Americans and build strong Latino communities through programs, services and advocacy.
St. Ambrose LULAC staff adviser Andrea Rivera said the student members are from various cultures and backgrounds, and they willingly learn and encourage one another. She added they have become very close friends, if not family, who listen and value each other no matter their heritage, race or religion.
Victor Garibay, a sophomore from Chicago who transferred to the university this fall, described the council as a safe space where everyone is able to contribute what their culture offers.
His childhood friend, SAU sophomore Norma Palomino, encouraged him to join LULAC.
“It has been a great support system for me,” Palomino said.
St. Ambrose is a Catholic university committed to academic excellence, social justice and service. Located in Davenport, Iowa, it welcomes a diverse student body and, with an 11 to 1 student-faculty ratio, provides a learning environment where all of its students can find the individual attention they might need to succeed personally and professionally.
Ryan Saddler, the university’s Director of Diversity, said St. Ambrose strives to promote to serve students of all ethnicities and said the university has become increasingly intent on educating all students about the value of difference.
“The ultimate goal is for our students to be aware of issues throughout the community related to racial and ethnic injustice, and to become aware of the mechanisms and actions that will ensure a more just society,” Saddler said.
“As an institution, we are excited about having a LULAC chapter on campus and excited about what it can mean for the St. Ambrose community. We have the potential to learn from one another, to become aware of injustices in society, aware of how we can address and call those on the carpet now and in the communities where our students will land,” he said.
Clarice Roa moved to the U.S. from the Philippines six years ago. She is from the small city of Mundelein, Ill., and will graduate in May 2017 with a degree in forensic psychology.
She joined the LULAC council last year and said while the members do not share the same culture, they do have shared experiences, such as being a woman of color in the U.S., and aspects of language, tradition and family values.
Most importantly, the members share their pride. “In America, when you are from a different culture, you are proud of it,” Roa said.
Last month, the SAU council hosted a Dia de Los Muertos event for the campus community. A steady stream of students attended to learn about the celebration and enjoy food, games and music. Before the event concluded, SAU LULAC Collegiate Council president Vicente Solis offered a prayer for those who have passed. The crowd of students filling the room joined him in prayer and tears, Palomino said.
It was an overwhelming statement of respect and partnership, she said.
Added Garibay, “I enjoy the community we have created here. We gain and grow in empowerment through each other,” he said.
Solis said the members will continue to host events for the university community as well as extend the council’s reach beyond campus. Plans are underway to make and donate blankets to area shelters as well as meet with area Latino high school students to talk to them about college and offer personal tours of campus. “Our members are open and willing to do all of these things,” he said.
Saddler said students involved in LULAC have a tremendous opportunity. The SAU Collegiate Council was formed at the urging of Davenport LULAC Council 10 and has the support of its 100-plus members. In addition, the collegiate council has access to the state and national LULAC organizations, which connects the university students with additional support and expertise, he said.
Palomino said she is the first person in her immediate family to graduate high school, and the first to attend college. She said she knew she wanted to attend St. Ambrose from the first time she visited campus. “Everyone is welcoming,” she said.
Garibay also the first in his immediate family to attend college, said he believes there is a place for everyone. He found his at St. Ambrose.
“Get your education,” Garibay said. “Education is key. Knowledge is power.”