A growing university population is being recognized for its achievements and heritage this month and next.
SIU is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, which began Sept. 15 and will run through Oct. 15. Events including lectures, forums, celebrations and Mr. Latino & Miss Latina continue through Oct. 10.
According to the university’s Institutional Research and Studies department, the Hispanic population enrolled for fall 2013 is at about 7.1 percent, compared to 6.5 percent for fall 2012. Chancellor Rita Cheng said Hispanic Heritage Month is a way to recognize and welcome the incoming Hispanic population at SIU, as 10 percent of the 2013 freshmen class comes from Hispanic backgrounds.
Cheng said she expects the Hispanic population to grow at SIU in future years, especially since it is one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States.
“The heritage month is an opportunity to pause and reflect and celebrate the contributions that Hispanics have made to the United States and the world,” Cheng said. “It’s specifically important for SIU because of our rich history in diversity and in celebrating differences and bringing people from all different cultures and backgrounds together.”
Katherine Sermersheim, SIU’s interim dean of students, said she hopes SIU faculty and students take time to immerse themselves in Hispanic culture for the sake of learning something new.
“We not only celebrate this month to both celebrate and acknowledge the historical significance of a large part of student and faculty population, but we also do it to educate,” Sermersheim said.
Sermersheim stressed the importance of diversity, regardless of ethnic group. Campus events have turned out well and have given students a taste of a different culture, she said.
“The purpose of these months is to celebrate and learn about the culture and experiences of a particular ethnic group,” Sermersheim said. “This month is a chance to embrace and celebrate the Hispanic community, as well as an inclusive community at SIU.”
Dianna Balan, a senior from Chicago studying communication disorders and sciences and a Hispanic Resource Center student worker, said the month is valuable for her office because it highlights the Hispanic student population. Hispanic students come from a multitude of countries including Colombia, Guatemala, Central America, South America and Mexico, she said.
“We are very proud that the numbers have increased at SIU and we’re just hoping to just be able to bring awareness to the importance of education to the Hispanic community so they will be enrolling in college,” Balan said. “As far as seeing our numbers rise at SIU, it shows that we are doing something right.”
Balan said she tries to emphasize to students that they do not have to be Hispanic to use the center, and that anyone who wants to learn about Hispanic life and culture can visit the office. She said the office also has a library that includes research materials from countries such as Chile and Uruguay.
“We let students know our office is always open and welcome to any student that would like to learn Spanish,” Balan said. “Our office is very friendly and we welcome any student across campus.”
Balan said the month is also a way to celebrate Hispanic achievements in higher education, as moving away from families and cultural circles can be difficult, she said.
“From my perspective, if I go home and know students who are graduating or even students who have graduated and ask them about what they think about going away for school, from personal experience, that’s often harder for Hispanics,” Balan said.
Balan said she tries to encourage any student of any background to visit the Hispanic Resource center because not all Hispanics identify themselves as such.
“For example, if a student is from Argentina, they consider themselves Argentinian. They don’t consider themselves a Latino, Latina or Hispanic,” Balan said.
Guillermo Hurtado, a graduate student from Nicaragua studying the teaching of English to speakers of other languages and a Hispanic Resource Center student worker, said Hispanic Heritage Month is a way for him and other Hispanic students to celebrate their culture away from home.
“We celebrate our achievements in this month, which is why it is important,” Hurtado said. “It is a way to get back to our roots at SIU. We want to show the whole community what we offer with our culture and traditions.”
Hurtado said the events the university puts on are not just for remembering Hispanic heritage, but also to meet new people in the community and on campus.
“All of the events are important but we are also trying to get to know other people in a communal way,” Hurtado said. “Anyone interested and wanting to have fun can join, meet other people and take away a part of our traditions and celebrations.”
Besides helping students educate themselves on Hispanic culture, the resource center helps students with their emotional and social needs, Hurtado said.
“We give counseling to help students adjust to life at SIU and in Carbondale,” Hurtado said. “If they are lonely or disoriented, we show them what SIU offers.”
Hurtado said the office tries to be open and accommodating for any issue with whom a student might come in contact.
“(Students) can come here for any help they need, whether it is academically or socially or any issue they are having in their life,” Hurtado said. “The center is here for support and information.”
Hurtado said students who do not try to learn about their heritages often put themselves at a disadvantage and the events going on this month are a great opportunity for students to connect to themselves and others.
The remaining events for Hispanic Heritage Month include:
— “Where is the Tamale Button?” a presentation by Robert A. Lopez, at 12 p.m. Tuesday in the Student Center Mississippi Room. Lopez will cover product development for emerging Mexican and Mexican-American Markets in the United States;
— “Courageous Conversations: How to Negotiate with Courage and Intelligence,” a presentation by Melinda Yeomans at 12 p.m. Thursday in the Student Center Mississippi Room;
— Student Rally and March, beginning at 12 p.m. on the steps of Shryock Auditorium;
— Loteria, a Mexican game of chance, held at 5 p.m. Sunday in the Student Center Renaissance Room;
— the Hispanic Student Council Festival Latino, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Oct. 8 in the Free Forum area outside Anthony Hall;
— the second-annual Mr. Latino & Miss Latina Pageant, at 5 p.m. Oct. 9 in the Student Center Auditorium; and
— concert of Hispanic vocal and instrumental pieces, starring Chilean singer and guitarist Ishmael “Bandolero” Duran, at 6 p.m. in Ballroom B of the Student Center, Oct. 10.
Elizabeth Zinchuk can be reached at
or 536-3311 ext. 256