Hispanic Student Council major force on campus

By Gus Bode

Group celebrates Hispanic heritage

Twenty years ago, SIUC Latino students had nothing to call their own on campus. With few Hispanic faculty members and no one to represent them and give them a voice, they felt left out when it came to the community around them.

“The Latino student population felt out of place,” said faculty advisor Carmen Suarez. “It was about survival.”


Things had to change.

Six members comprised the first Hispanic Student Council more than 18 years ago. The organization was formed to provide that missing outlet for Latino students, to help them transition into life at SIUC and to provide the voice they desired.

After 18 years of hard work and dedication, the Hispanic Student Council is a priority one Registered Student Organization. It serves as an umbrella organization for the representatives from the six Latino-interest groups on campus.

Priority one status was developed by USG to give certain RSOs priority when scheduling activities and tables. HSC was one of the first organizations to receive the honor.

HSC president Amanda Cortes said the group continues to address administration about their concerns, including the lack of Latino administration and faculty on campus. But often, Cortes feels the group is not respected by the administration and that Latino voices often fall on deaf ears.

“It’s just very frustrating,” she said. “You don’t see many Latino faces working at the University, and it seems like the administration doesn’t care.”

She noted that the Southern at 150 plan, which lists the goals for SIUC when the University turns 150 in 2019, doesn’t include anything that affects the Latino population.


Despite this, Suarez, who has been the faculty adviser for HSC for nine years, said the group has received a lot of recognition and respect from throughout the University since it was first developed in 1986.

Former group president Marina Rentas said she believes HSC has become “a force to be reckoned with.”

She said the organization continues to become more involved and geared towards helping the community and University as a whole. One way is through retention.

HSC has been shown to greatly influence retention among the Latino population at the University, though the numbers for the Latino population on campus have remained steady for the past few years.

Rentas, a senior in English and pre-business, said the Hispanic Student Council provides a place where students can learn to become a part of the University.

“We try to get them involved and provide them with on outlet to talk about what’s going on and how they’re feeling,” she said.

Cortes attributed Latino retention to the group’s continuing support of incoming freshmen, which she considers the most important aspect of the organization. She said HSC tries to decrease culture shock, allowing students to hold on to their culture and roots while introducing them to the college environment.

“The first year is the most important because they’re leaving home for the first time and need support and assurance,” she said. “We try to provide a family environment and support them in any way we can.”

Suarez said the dedication to the incoming Latino students is what made the Hispanic Student Council so absorbed in campus affairs.

“It allows Latino students the opportunity to gain the confidence needed to get involved on campus, without which, they wouldn’t,” she said.

HSC is currently organizing Festival Latina, an annual celebration of Hispanic heritage and culture on Friday from noon to 4 p.m. at the Free Forum Area.

“It’s really going to be a great time,” she said. “We could call it a block party if we could section off the streets.”

People from throughout the community are welcome to attend the event, which features a piata contest, a jalapeno eating contest, Latino music, dance and, of course, free food.

Suarez said the festival has been held annually for the past six years as a part of Hispanic Heritage month to celebrate the unique Latino culture.

Cortes said she feels Hispanic Heritage month is important not only to the Latino population, but to American citizens as a whole.

“It gives us the opportunity to celebrate as a whole,” she said. “Latino culture has always been around, but it’s gradually becoming more and more popular. The food is good, the music has a good beat, its just all great.”

Reporter Katie A. Davis can be reached at [email protected]