Student Explores Latinx Diversity on Campus
April 20, 2017
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The Latinx Project (www.thelatinxproject.com), an interactive website created by Robert Zarate-Morales ’17, was recently launched as a part of the Middlebury Fellowship for Thought Leadership.
The website aims to explore the diversity of Latinx experiences on campus, and features writing and art pieces submitted by members of the Middlebury College community.
The fellowship was sent out in the fall as an opportunity for juniors and seniors to delve into conversations that were often uncomfortable and taboo — things like diversity, inclusivity, identity, and privilege — and to use those to inspire change on campus.
The fellowship is “a semester-long experience where juniors and seniors convene three times over the course of the year to develop the skills to emerge as a thought leader and public voice,” according to Dr. Dena Simmons ’05, the director of education at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the leader of the fellowship.
Thought leadership is about “being conscientious about the way you lead, and not just taking the reigns but also trying to use the voices of many to guide the direction in which you go,” ZarateMorales said.
After the semester is over, the fellows culminate their experience in a final project. The 15 fellows have chosen to present through a diverse array of mediums, such as speeches, op-eds and performances.
As his final project, Zarate-Morales launched the Latinx Project website to explore the topics he studied throughout the fellowship through the lens of Latinx voices on campus.
Zarate-Morales got the idea of a website because Latinx voices are historically underrepresented in the digital world, and the Latinx Project is a platform he hopes Latinx students will feel comfortable using to share their experiences.
“I thought that creating a virtual platform would allow these voices to be heard a little more, and be more visible in the digital world,” Zarate-Morales said. “The fellowship explored many different ways the fellows could make their voices and experiences heard, and the Internet is, especially today, a major factor in social visibility.”
Simmons agreed on the importance of focusing on social media platforms.
“Social media platforms are important today because, in many ways, it is how many communicate, stay in touch and learn what is happening in the world,” she said. “We saw from the Black Lives Matter movement, Arab Spring and the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline the power of social media. Yes, there are ways these platforms could be abused, but they can also do good — and we will focus on that!”
The website launched on April 15, Easter Sunday, in conjunction with the final day of the holy week that many Spanishspeaking countries celebrate. Zarate-Morales chose this date, which he believed would allow Latinx students of many different backgrounds to feel included.
For Zarate-Morales, inclusivity was a major goal throughout the process.
“I want [the website] to be used to connect Latinx and Hispanic voices within the Middlebury community, and outside Middlebury,” he said. “It’s also for people who don’t identify with that social group to learn more about it. It’s really for everyone”
Zarate-Morales plans on updating his website regularly with new articles and images from campus contributors, and resources like names of books and movies for people to learn more about Latinx and Hispanic culture both at the College and in the world at large.
One entry featured right now, written by Ricardo Rosales-Mesta ’19, tells the story of a young Colombian boy, Moctezuma, making the difficult journey to the U.S. alone to live with his aunt.
Zarate-Morales said that he encourages people to read and try to relate to, or challenge, these stories.
“It’s all about connection, and engagement,” he said.
Connection and engagement with challenging topics is a major goal of the fellowship as a whole. Simmons described how the projects can help the campus broach sometimes uncomfortable topics.
“Oftentimes, we end up living in the culture of nice instead of the culture of authenticity,” she said. “When we live in the space of just being nice, we fear pushing others to grow or to question problematic actions and statements because we fear unsettling the niceness. I think the projects have the potential to push people to the space of authentic and empathetic expression, conversations and actions.”
Such an idea comes at a pertinent time on campus.
“After the Charles Murray event, so many of my fellows wanted to act right away to combat the single narrative of the event and the us/them dichotomy that the media — on and off campus — perpetuated,” Simmons said. “The fellowship, in many ways, created space for students not only to discuss power and privilege and the problematic and assaultive events on campus and beyond, but also to act to combat them.”
Simmons believes Zarate-Morales’ website addresses the fellowship’s goals of fostering inclusivity and diversity by giving voice to often silenced groups on campus.
“[Zarate-Morales]’s website aims to provide a space and platform for the Latinx community to share their lives and experiences and to connect with each other,” Simmons said. “There is power in sharing out stories; stories connect and humanize us, and this website has that potential.”
The fellowship may be coming to a close, but Simmons hopes the fellows will carry their projects beyond the scope of the fellowship and continue to affect change on and off campus.
“[Zarate-Morales]’s website will first start with the voices of other Latinx students on campus but his hope is for it to live beyond Middlebury — and beyond the fellowship,” Simmons said. “His website amplifies voices that are often silenced and reduced to stereotypical depictions. It gives power to people by having them tell their own stories, disrupting the many single narratives that exist about groups of people.”
Zarate-Morales hopes the Middlebury community will use www.thelatinxproject.com to learn about the diverse array of Latinx experiences on campus, and encourages anybody to share their own stories.