The University of Pittsburgh’s first-ever Latinx student graduation
The Latinx Student Association hosted its first Latinx graduation in English and Spanish.
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The Latinx Student Association (LSA) at the University of Pittsburgh serves as an organization centered around the advancement and success of Pitt’s Latinx students. LSA celebrates the unique perspectives of Latinx students and advocates for the concerns, needs, and interests of Latinx students— its mission is to motivate, educate, advocate, and celebrate.
LSA and Latin American Graduate Organization of Students (LAGOS) are the two organizations responsible for the first-ever Latinx student graduation at Pittsburgh, with 21 graduating students, of whom 14 were undergraduate students.
Another event, titled “The Gathering,” is a “special graduation ceremony to acknowledge and celebrate graduating students of color, for the first time this year,” reported The Pitt News, noting that it is "meant to empower, embrace and engage students of color and their families.”
"The Gathering" is a separate event intended to celebrate Black students primarily; it is organized through the Student Affairs Office and the Office of Inclusion and Belonging.
In an interview with AL DÍA, Mati Castillo, LSA’s president, and Alysia Colón, vice president of LSA, discuss the impact of LSA at Pittsburgh and the development of the first Latinx graduation.
Castillo is a recent graduate from Pittsburgh with double Bachelor’s degrees in Anthropology and Spanish with a minor in Museum Studies. She is originally from Oxnard, California, and will be attending UCLA in the fall for a Master’s degree in Latin American Studies.
Granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, Castillo shares how her parents, both educators, always emphasized the importance of education because “it can improve the lives of individuals, but also can uplift entire communities.”
Pitt was the most affordable option for Castillo; she acknowledges the impact the lack of diversity on campus had on her—almost forcing her to drop out of college. But it was LSA where she found “a little place to exist safely, where people did not think my opinions were crazy or if I said, someone said something I thought was rude or insensitive or a little racist, instead of being cold, I was too sensitive— I was told no, that makes sense.”
I needed the people who understood me.
Before accepting her college offer, Castillo knew there would not be as many Hispanic people in Pittsburgh but admits “knowing it and understanding it, experiencing it, were two completely different things.”
According to the most recent data available, OEDI reports 75.2% of undergraduate students identified as white, while 6.3% of undergraduate students identified as Hispanic or Latino in Fall 2021.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge — with Black students, Asian students, Hispanic Students, Indigenous students, first-gen, low income, they have been traditionally excluded from being able to access higher education,” said Castillo in an interview with The Pitt News. “They have not always been wanted and they’ve not always been supported.”
The coordinating process for the Latinx students' graduation began in January—working with the office of the vice provost, the Center for Latin American Studies, and the Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership to bring the graduation to fruition. Castillo notes, “It is a small number of graduates this year, but we are laying the groundwork to make this an annual event.”
“I think there are times where we come together as you know, students of color, but then we also need to get to celebrate the specific struggles and the specific history of our communities,” Castillo said to The Pitt News.
Colón is an LGBTQ+ Puerto Rican and African American woman and a recent graduate from the University of Pittsburgh with a Bachelor’s degree in Public Service with a concentration in Nonprofit Management. She also has minors in sociology and Hispanic Language and Culture.
Similarly to Castillo, Alysia struggled with the lack of representation on campus, especially during the pandemic—balancing course load, mental health, her identity without being around Latinos, and the expectation level.
However, she credits these experiences for pointing out “flaws that were already there, and I would have come to realize anyway, [but] this was faster.”
Despite these challenges, she did not feel supported by the school but acknowledged, “I did not necessarily use the resources at my disposal.”
According to Colón, LSA has an estimated 210 students but not everyone is as active.
She shares, “Mati and I have been working hard to build a stronger foundation of leadership” to ensure LSA can thrive after their graduation, which occurred on April 28th.
“You need to find that foundation of the community first to get you through the next four years,” Colón concluded.