Music, food, and the celebration of Hispanic culture became a focal point on Indiana University (IU) Northwest’s campus Thursday afternoon. Hispanic Heritage Month takes place from September 15 through October 15 and IU Northwest is one of the first universities in Indiana to receive the designation of being a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). IU Northwest President Pamela Whitten and other university cabinet members were in attendance for the celebration.
“It's such a celebratory atmosphere on campus as we kick off Hispanic Heritage Month,” said IU Northwest Chancellor Ken Iwama. “We had President Pamela Whitten and many of our cabinet members visit us today, so it really added an extra gravitas to the occasion. This is the hard work and the vision of our faculty, staff, and students on campus who are really intent on celebrating our status as a Hispanic Serving Institution, our cultural roots, and the belonging for our students, faculty and staff.”
Staff members like Nicholas Casas, assistant librarian at IU Northwest, helped to plan the events for the month. The celebration has seen attendance rise since it started.
“This first started off as a Mexican Independence Day celebration back in September 15 of 2021,” said Casas. “We felt that it was really important to do a celebration like that because we were approaching the Hispanic Serving Institution designation by the U.S. Department of Education.”
The event has become really popular and has received support from all across the university. It also shows how proud IU Northwest is to be a minority-serving institution.
“It's such a really wonderful celebration,” said Casas. “I think this is definitely the most attended event that we have on the IU Northwest campus in the entire academic calendar.”
Hispanic students make up close to 30% of the student body at IU Northwest. There are many first-generation students and students who come from historically underrepresented communities. Providing a welcoming environment for all is really important to IU Northwest.
“The research and our personal experiences tell us time and time again that all students' success relies on the campus affiliation and the personal relationships that we develop with faculty,” said Iwama. “It is critical to success. Our future now is grounded in that student success and how we can make their investment have a great return on investment.”
A return on that investment, some Latinos have even become closer to their culture. Having events like Thursday’s helps to make that return.
“I have felt like I drifted away from my culture, but I'm more into it now that I am here,” said Alessandra Cruz, IU Northwest freshman. “I think it brings me closer to my culture and more Hispanic people. It's really good to come together. I honestly feel really welcomed here. I don’t feel judged or out of the ordinary. I feel good here.”
IU Northwest is a melting pot of many different people and ethnicities working together to attain higher education while also fostering a strong sense of community.
“One of the reasons I wanted to come here was because of the community,” said Iwama. “I saw a future and a family that could grow together. I believed that we could come together for student success, and I see that playing out now. While we still have a lot of work to do, what we have accomplished here and how we work together here is truly unique.”
There are more events to explore to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at IU Northwest, such as the exhibit in the John W. Anderson Library on Consuelo Ornelas Garcia who was Northwest Indiana’s first Hispanic nurse.