#MizzouSolidarity: 6 College Latinas Fighting for Racial Justice

Last month, hundreds of African-American students at the University of Missouri made national news when they joined forces with teachers to hold protests against the racial injustices they experience on their campus. The demonstrations, which led to the school’s president and chancellor stepping down, also sparked similar movements at universities across the country.

While African Americans spearheaded the protests that have now reached more than 50 college campuses throughout the U.S., Latinas, many African descendants themselves, have been rallying alongside them.

From Dartmouth student Geovanni Cuevas being slammed and handcuffed during a conference at Brown University to Claremont McKenna College dean Mary Spellman telling student Lisette Espinosa that she doesn't "fit the mold," it’s no doubt that Latinos also experience the devastating outcomes of racial oppression on university campuses. Here are just some Latina college students who have taken on the fight. 

MORE: What It's Really Like to be a First-Generation Latina College Student

1. Crosly Cruz, Dominican, University of Iowa

What role did you play in your campus’ solidarity demonstration?

The day of our "Blackout For Mizzou" demonstration, which brought about 200 University of Iowa students together, I purposely dressed in all black, even wearing really dark makeup, so I could spark conversation on the issue. It worked. People began asking me about my out-of-the-ordinary attire, and I talked to them about what was happening in Mizzou and recommended that they come stand in solidarity with us.

Why was it important for you to be involved?

It's my job to make the place that I live in safe and accepting.

Why is racial justice particularly important at our universities?

People of color are not just studying here. We live here. We grow here. We should be treated like people and have the same opportunities and representation as students of other races.

2. Denisse Gabriela Girón, Costa Rican, Hofstra University

What role did you play in your campus’ solidarity demonstration?

Hofstra held an open forum, where all the students were given a chance to tell the dean about race-relation issues on our campus and our feelings about Mizzou. I highlighted how seldom we hire professors of color – the statistic here is somewhere between 3%-5% professors of color, which is absolutely ridiculous and impacts its students of color.

Why is racial justice particularly important at our universities?

For young people of color, colleges force us away from our identities and culture. It's seen as better than our barrios and ‘hoods, like a way to escape because our homes are "bad." Academia pushes us to talk, dress, act and write a certain way. It's a business to assimilate us. But it shouldn't be that way. There's no reason that we have to give up our families and cultures just so others can feel comfortable.

Why is African American-Latinx solidarity movements important to you?

For starters, those identities are not always separate. And we need to be there to support those who navigate both identities. But I also think that black and brown kids grow up very similarly. I think that solidarity with each other is so important because African Americans and Latinxs all live under the same white oppressive system. En la union esta la fuerza, you know?

3. Sydney Alicia Rodriguez, Puerto Rican and Black-American, University of Pennsylvania

What role did you play in your campus’ solidarity demonstration?

I helped plan and execute our walk-out with SOUL (Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation), the only student group on campus that is committed to advocating for the liberation of black and brown bodies. I was meant to be in the background, but I found myself in the front leading chants. It was empowering.

Why is racial justice particularly important at our universities?

If you can influence students to understand and change the racial climate in our universities, then they will likely be at the forefront for changing the racial climate in our country and, subsequently, the world. Also, universities often control the economy of many major cities, giving students a lot of power. Look at Mizzou's football team, which boycotted the sports team for racial justice. They understood that money talks to systemic racism.

Why is African American-Latinx solidarity movements important to you?

I owe my existence to African American-Latinx solidarity. I've spent my whole life navigating those communities and making sure the voices from one are heard and understood from the other. Latinx and African Americans are two of the most oppressed communities in the United States; we are also among the fastest-growing. If we lift each other up and support the causes of one another, can you imagine what can be accomplished?

4. Kenia Alejandra Calderon Ceron, Salvadoran, Drake University

What role did you play in your campus’ solidarity demonstration?

A few of my friends organized our demonstration and asked that I speak, and I did because, as a Latina, black lives matter to me. The Coalition of Black Students and La Fuerza Latina, which I lead, also created a list of demands for our president. We have plenty of our own issues here.

Why was it important for you to be involved?

Because I care about human rights. I'm a DREAMer, protected by DACA, but I have close family members who are still undocumented, and those of us with even a little privilege need to support those on the margins.

Why is racial justice particularly important at our universities?

It was hard enough for many of us to even get to college, and systemic racism makes it harder for us to stay in school. We, as people of color, as human beings, deserve the same power, access and opportunities that are given as a default to our white peers. Racism exists, and it's time our college institutions see us as equals.

5. Yovanna Garcia, Mexican, Ramapo College of New Jersey

What role did you play in your campus’ solidarity demonstration?

I marched and chanted with dozens of my peers and just a handful of the administrators during our campus demonstration. But as a journalism major, it was also crucial for me to document the protest, which I did through powerful photos and videos.

Why was it important for you to be involved?

As a low-income, first-generation Mexican-American queer woman, there is no doubt that I would be involved in a movement that advocates for the freedom and justice of black people. In a nation that does not value black lives and the systemic oppression of people of color, it makes sense that racial and ethnic minorities — and minorities in general — would band together to highlight the issues still affecting historically disenfranchised groups.

Why is racial justice particularly important at our universities?

It is essential to empower marginalized students with the institutional support needed to cultivate their success at colleges and universities. We need to provide visible and adequate resources to minority students.

6. Sonia Tavarez, Dominican, New York University

What role did you play in your campus’ solidarity demonstrations?

I helped create the preamble document for the black and brown coalition that expressed the unspoken experiences of students of color at NYU. I also attended the general assembly meeting to help organize and plan for the future.

Why is racial justice particularly important at our universities?

Our identities are on the line. Universities are supposed to be safe spaces, but they are not. We should not have to choose between safety and education, especially with tuition as high as it is. How are you able to learn when you are sitting in class thinking about the violence that students of color have undergone?

Why is African American-Latinx solidarity movements important to you?

There is a history of Latinx and African American solidarity movements, especially with the Young Lords Party and the Black Panthers, and in particular at NYU, given the reality that the active majority of the Latinos on campus are Afro-Latino. Blackness is a center of unity on campus.