Building community at the Carolina Latinx Center

The Carolina Latinx Center provides students, faculty and staff with support and opportunities to explore Latinx cultures, histories and traditions and to then use that understanding to work across racial and ethnic communities.

The Carolina Latino/a Collaborative served as a hub for the Latinx community on campus for nearly a decade, providing crucial support and resources for the University’s growing Latinx student population.

Josmell Perez and many others, including Professor Paul Cuadros and undergraduate leader Ronald Bilbao, helped build that foundation at UNC-Chapel Hill, and in the fall of 2019, Perez became the director of the Carolina Latinx Center when it officially opened in Abernethy Hall.

Josmell Perez

Josmell Perez is the director of the Carolina Latinx Center located at Abernethy Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Since then, the center has expanded its programming and support for Tar Heels, has become a home for organizations dedicated to Carolina’s Latinx students and provided a study and social space with workrooms, offices and common areas.

With leadership and academic programs, mentorship for faculty members and a dozen student organizations dedicated to the Latinx community, the center is strengthening and supporting Latinx Tar Heels through empowerment, collaboration and service.

“The mission and vision of the center is to serve as a connector, a piece of community building,” Perez said. “We have a big commitment to the greater community and the academic landscape of the University.”

Continue reading to learn more about the Carolina Latinx Center from Perez.

You’ve said that the Carolina Latinx Center serves as a connector and a community builder. Why is that mission of the center so important?

It’s important because it’s a recognition of the community. It’s a recognition and understanding that Latinos here are not only an important aspect of the community, but they have a value that they provide.

It is also important because, as an institution of higher learning, we’re going to prepare our students to go out into the communities where they’re going to work and interact with people from all backgrounds. We want them to feel not only comfortable but be aware of celebrating those differences. I think it is important to be able to celebrate and acknowledge the importance of their presence. That goes across the board. Whether they’re students, faculty, or staff, they want and need that sense of belonging.

What do you want Tar Heels to take away from being part of the Carolina Latinx Center?

I want them to take away a sense of pride. We were just recently having this conversation of, ‘What does the center represent?’ And it’s interesting to hear the sense of not only pride and belonging but of recognition.

At the same time, we look toward the future. Everybody, in one way or another, represents the next step in the next generation. Yes, there are always going to be more immigrants that come, and there are always going to be first-generation students here. But the majority of the students, not only at Carolina but in the state, are now second and third generation, where maybe the parents and our ancestors crossed the border and came to work in the fields or service industries. Their sons and daughters are here, and they’re looking to be doctors and lawyers or administrators or teachers who will change the landscape of not only the state but also their own communities.

Who can be part of the center?

Everybody. We want everybody to come in, whether it’s learning about different Latinx communities, interacting with other people or grabbing a cup of coffee. We always have some sort of snack out, and that’s so that people feel welcome.

We’re trying to be deliberate about some of our programming with faculty, staff and graduate students. We have two graduate students who are now working with us. We’re working with University Career Services. We’re thinking of ways to make the space one that is welcoming for all, whether you’re faculty, staff or a student, whether you’re Latino, or someone who loves Latino culture. And we welcome the opportunity to have difficult conversations about any topic. There’s not a topic that I don’t feel comfortable and talk about discussing for any reason.

What keeps you passionate about the work of the Carolina Latinx Center?

For me, what’s important is to leave that legacy. As I’m getting older and now being dubbed an ‘elder,’ I start to think about the legacy I want to leave behind and the impact we’re having. And so, to me, that’s what wakes me up every morning. It is what gives me the drive to continue to see the students and talk to students who never thought that not only could they get to Carolina, but they could be admitted to medical school or law school or go get their first teaching job.

They’re excited to go back into their communities and continue that legacy and celebrate all the challenges that they faced, or their family faced, for them to reach their goals.

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