May 112008
 
Authors: Kelli Pryor

Walking onto campus as an incoming freshman, Raquel Ramirez felt the strain of being a part of the minority. As a child, she grew up in a tight-knit Latino family where the children were taught the importance of their cultural background.

“It is something my family wants us to cherish and hold onto,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez, a junior social work major, is one of the 1,532 Latino students at CSU. When she first came to campus, it was obvious to her that she was a minority. Though she grew up in the predominately Caucasian town of Brighton, the size of the CSU campus was overwhelming to her, she said.

“The bad thing about CSU is that there is a much bigger Caucasian population in relation to Hispanics, so there still was a culture shock for me,” Ramirez said.

This feeling of being different led her to El Centro, the Latino student services organization at CSU that helps minority students advance their academic and personal lives on campus.

“El Centro was my home away from home. It was a place I could go and feel comfortable and see people who are like me,” Ramirez said.

Eventually, she started working at El Centro and is now a peer resource leader in charge of contacting new students to tell them about El Centro and the services the office has to offer. Ramirez and El Centro staff also work to increase diversity on campus.

“I think (CSU) is doing a better job improving on diversity,” she said. “But I think they could still work on a few areas. I think they could still get more students that are diverse to come to campus.

“Here at CSU, out of 22,000 students, there are only 1,500 Latino students, that’s less than six percent — and we are the biggest minority on campus.”

Eighty-seven percent of undergraduate students are white, said Estevan Jaimes, assistant director of diversity outreach.

That means only 13 out of every 100 students are considered minorities.

But some students are optimistic about the university’s efforts to improve diversity.

“We are doing every possible strategy we can to increase diversity,” said Guadalupe Salazar, director of El Centro Student Services. “I have been on many other campuses, and I feel CSU is doing even more (than them) to become diverse.”

Even so, Ramirez said she has seen misrepresentation of minorities on campus.

Campus life is not the only place minorities are being misrepresented, Ramirez said. The media is contributing to the cultural ignorance as well.

“I think the media looks at the negative aspects of our culture,” she said.

Immigration, an issue that gets a lot of media coverage, is a subject Ramirez says many people are misinformed about.

“For me, it is hard when they are talking about immigration and how all of the immigrants are taking resources away from people. They can’t even apply for those resources because they are undocumented,” she said. “I don’t like how they make Mexicans seem like they are lazy or dirty when they are actually really hard working. They don’t get paid as much as they should for the work that they do.”

For Ramirez, basic understanding is all that is needed to improve relations among different ethnicities.

“I think that people need to show more respect and sensitivity toward (Latin) culture and understand the culture more and see what we have to go through. By having that understanding and cultural awareness,” people are more likely to relate to one another, she said.

While there is a lot of room for improvement toward advancing diversity, Ramirez says it’s moving in the right direction. Since starting at El Centro, she has seen interest in different Hispanic activities increase.

“For Hispanic Heritage Month, things are starting to get bigger and better and people from different ethnicities are starting to get involved,” she said.

Staff writer Kelli Pryor can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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