Diversity outside the classroom: IU Northwest students reflect on cultural celebration, conference

Diversity outside the classroom: IU Northwest students reflect on cultural celebration, conference

Students attended 50th anniversary of La Casa and Association for Black Culture Centers Conference

Indiana University Northwest students recently traveled to IU Bloomington for a diversity celebration and conference, learning about the profound impact cultural centers have had for students throughout the university.

In October, six students from the Northwest campus who participated in an essay contest attended the 50th anniversary of La Casa, IU Bloomington’s campus Latino Cultural Center. Five more students traveled to the Association for Black Culture Centers Conference, which featured educators and students from across the country, in November.

Both opportunities came through IU Northwest’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs (ODEMA).

“ODEMA is pleased to offer our students an opportunity to connect with students and culture centers across the university,” ODEMA Director James Wallace said. “Beyond strengthening the student’s sense of belonging to the larger institution, the attendees were able to explore ways in which student leaders advocate for themselves and take ownership over their collective experiences while observing academic presentation styles within a conference setting.”

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of La Casa

Thanks to funding from the Chancellor’s Office, IU Northwest was the only regional Indiana University campus to send students to the 50th anniversary celebration of La Casa. 

Established in 1973, La Casa serves as a link between the campus and the Latine community, helping to foster a sense of belonging and pride for Latine students.

The three-day event served as a celebration, but also a chance for IU Northwest students Bella East, Eddie Valdez, Mina Mahmood, Xochilth Villa, Ellie James and Madison Dancy to participate in sessions which included important conversations with Latino alumni, faculty, staff and students.

These sessions and conversations explored student experiences at IU and ways the university can support their educational pursuits, building a support network to enhance professional opportunities and more.

“These students in particular are very inclined to deal with many obstacles that many who aren’t like them or look like them may not be aware of,” Valdez said. “It’s critical for these students to have teachers who want to support them and their educational needs.”

Between sessions, students had a chance to meet with leaders from the Office of the Vice President for Student Success, sharing their reflections with IU leadership, including Vice President Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, Assistant Vice President Yolanda Treviño and La Casa Director Lillian Casillas.

Through these sessions and conversations, the students were able to witness the impact La Casa has had on so many throughout its 50-year history.

“I definitely saw the profound impact that this one small home had in the hearts of everyone,” Mahmood said. “La Casa provides a refuge and safe haven for students to feel comfortable and secure in their heritage, even if they are thousands of miles away from home.”

Building connections, learning at the Black Culture Centers Conference

At the Association for Black Culture Centers Conference, hosted by the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center (NMBCC) at IU Bloomington, IU Northwest students spent three days with faculty, staff and fellow students to discuss diversity and identity issues on college campuses.

IU Northwest students — Valdez, Mahmood, Azariah Avery, Kylie K. Cooper and Tanaya Posey — benefited from a professional development institute, workshops, plenary sessions and networking opportunities.

These sessions ranged from using assessment and data analysis to craft impactful narratives, how Black Culture Centers can enhance their archives, highlighting some of the issues Black students face in college and how to combat those and much more.

Cooper said the conference “illustrated the immense value that culture centers, specifically Black Culture Centers, add to the lives of students at predominately White institutions. Whether by utilizing assessments and data analysis, podcasting or archival discernment, all the speakers reiterated the value of telling one’s own story.”

The students also viewed a screening of the movie Till, sat in on a discussion with NMBCC elders, toured the archives of IU Bloomington’s Black Film Center and Archive and attend the Potpourri of the Arts performed by students in the African American Arts Institute.

IU Northwest students were not only able to connect with leaders, but they were able to connect and meet with students across the country from Idaho, South Carolina and New Mexico to name a few.

“I’m so grateful for this experience and opportunity to be surrounded by so many Black Ph.D.s,” Avery said.

“As someone who intends to seek a doctoral degree, it is encouraging to know that my chosen field is a tool for the advancement of Black people,” Cooper added.