“Welcome to our new space,” said Josmell Perez as he greeted visitors to the Carolina Latinx Center, which officially opened July 1 in Abernethy Hall.
Perez led the Carolina Latinx Collaborative for nearly a decade while it incubated within the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion. Now he will see the fruits of his labor — and that of students, faculty and staff — ripen as the CLC morphs into the Carolina Latinx Center, where he will serve as director.
The Abernethy Hall space includes an ample student workroom, offices and common space, with easy accessibility to campus in a central location. The space formerly housed the American Indian Center, now located at 205 Wilson St., across from Carolina Campus Community Garden.
The CLC’s original home was in Craige North Residential Hall through a partnership with Housing and Residential Life and D&I. “Part of my time with D&I was dedicated to managing and leading the collaborative,” Perez said. “As the collaborative grew in size, programming and impact, so did my role in overseeing it.”
The CLC was a home for the Latinx community on campus, providing an outlet for events, a space for students to organize and for faculty to connect with students and the community at large. (The term “Latinx” describes people of Latin American and/or Iberian heritage living in the United States, regardless of race or gender.)
The group organized Latinx Heritage Month events on campus, including bringing keynote speakers like civil rights activist Delores Huerta and performer Rita Moreno to campus. “The CLC also started a much needed Latinx Mentoring Program to fill a gap that wasn’t being met on campus,” Perez said.
An unofficial faculty recruiter, Perez welcomed candidates to campus when they came to visit or interview. “I would answer their questions and showcase Carolina. Through the CLC’s efforts, several Latinx faculty were successfully recruited to UNC,” he said.
Over the years, students began to push for a dedicated Latinx Center.
“This all started in a small room of believers back in 2007,” said Ron Bilbao, a 2010 graduate. “These were students — mostly Latina/o, but not exclusively — who believed that Carolina had room to grow and that we could build something to nurture and embrace this emerging University community.”
In 2013, the collaborative began evaluating its capacity to become a center. “It was plain that we needed to grow and that the existing structure was inhibiting our ability to do so. A Latinx Center had become imperative on campus,” Perez said.
Faculty responded favorably. “When I first heard of an effort to establish a Latinx center, I knew I had to lend all my energies behind this effort to create a home for our people,” said Paul Cuadros, an associate professor in the School of Media and Journalism.
In 2014, Cuadros formed a committee of faculty, students and staff to advocate for the creation of a Latinx Center. The University Board of Trustees approved the establishment of the Carolina Latinx Center in January with a unanimous vote.
The center’s elevated profile and the new space will influence the amount and quality of programming, events, resources and support that Perez and his staff will be able to provide to Carolina’s Latinx community.
“The foundation has been laid…now, we need to build the future,” he said.