USC celebrates inclusivity at Latinx Heritage Month kickoff event

La CASA, the university’s Latinx cultural center, hosted a live viewing party with students, faculty and alumni discussing the importance of Latinx Heritage Month.

Picture of Latinx Heritage Month graphic made by USC.

USC students, faculty and alumni kicked off Latinx Heritage Month on Thursday with a university-wide event at Tommy’s Place, USC’s concert venue at Ronald Tutor Campus Center. Joined virtually by President Carol L. Folt, the Latinx Chicanx Center for Advocacy and Student Affairs (La CASA) hosted the celebration with a theme of Unidos — Inclusivity for a Stronger Community.

From pupusas to tostones, a buffet of Latin American dishes lined an entire wall of the basement venue, where attendees gathered with plates and drinks in hand. President Folt and other speakers appeared on a projector screen onstage, sharing their thoughts on various Latinx issues and achievements at USC.

“I’m thinking of faculty like Annenberg Professor Amara Aguilar,” Folt said. “This past spring, she taught a course about oral history, and it featured recipes and stories and artifacts from ten Mexican and Mexican American grandmothers in Los Angeles.”

Folt remarked that USC’s Latino Alumni Association has given more than 9400 scholarships to Latinx students totaling $22.5 million since its founding in 1973. She attributed the LAA’s success to original founder Dr. Edward Zapanta, the first Latino member of the USC Board of Trustees and 1963 Keck School of Medicine Graduate.

“So far this year, 18% of our new incoming undergraduates, including our transfer students, and 14% of our incoming graduate students identify as Hispanic,” Folt said.

Annenberg Media spoke to students who attended the event to hear their perspectives.

Jenisty Colon, a first-year master’s student in the communication management program, said USC has a much more diverse Latinx student body than other universities.

“I had my undergrad at Chapman University, which is a majority white school,” said Colon. “My first week here at USC, you walk around campus and go to your classes and see that diversity. You see that representation.”

Maria Polanco, a student speaker at the event studying business administration, said in an interview that USC’s Latinx community is not as geographically diverse as it should be but events like La CASA’s help bridge those gaps.

“I’m Salvadorian and I haven’t really run into a single Salvadoran here except now, at this event,” said Polanco.

Pedro A. Noguera, the dean of USC Rossier School of Education, said it takes more than ethnic heritage to tell who is Latino in his speech.

“Latinos are a diverse, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, global people,” he said. “We have common challenges that we face, especially in this country at this time.”

Noguera also said he does not completely agree with the term “Latinx” to describe his community.

“Until my mother understands what [Latinx] means, and other people like her, I think we have a problem,” said Noguera.

Guliana Benitos, a graduate student studying Economics, said the term feels more like an American expression, and she would not use it to describe all Latino people around the world.

“I never use it, but I was born and raised outside the U.S.,” Benitos said. “It’s very strange when you tell your friends in Colombia or whatever country we come from, ‘Hey, they call us Latinx.’ If someone wants to be more inclusive, then [we use] Latine with an ‘e.’”

Polanco said she feels included by the term “Latinx,” though she understands why others may not, since the letter “x” is not used in the same way in English and Spanish.

“I do think that there is potential towards finding a term that we all feel included to,” she said.

Darline Robles, USC Rossier School of Education associate dean for Diversity & Community Engagement, said President Folt and her colleagues at Rossier have also helped diversify staff and faculty at USC. She said the university has significantly increased the hiring of Black and Latinx professors across all schools.

However, Colon says she still sees disparities in faculty diversity across the different schools and departments at USC.

“I’m an Annenberg student and so far, my professors have only been white,” she said. “My roommate is a student in the Rossier School of Education, and her professors are people of color, which is great. I would just like to see that diversity all throughout USC.”

Robles recalled a profound conversation she had with a student about diverse representation in faculty.

“She said to me, ‘You’re the first professor that made me feel that I was seen.’ She was Black. I was Latina. She could relate to me,” Robles said.

Robles believes diverse representation in faculty is getting better, but claims “we can always do more.”