The Student Organization for Latinos, Hispanics and Allies (SOL) celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 – Oct. 15. Hispanic and Latino people make up a small minority on campus: according to SOL’s president and one of two co-advisors, the events exceeded their expectations for attendance.
Mason Reisz, junior and president of SOL, comes from Harrison City, Pennsylvania. He was the only Hispanic person in his high school. Coming to campus opened Reisz’s eyes to a culture he had little experience with.
“I really didn’t know anything about my culture coming into college,” Reisz said. “Coming here and talking to Natalia or Andres, [who are] from Bolivia, they’re telling me all about their culture and things like that … it made me want to learn more about mine.”
Christine Pease-Hernandez, one of 12 Hispanic faculty members at SRU, has been an SOL advisor for almost 20 years.
“Celebrating Hispanic heritage is not just in a month, but it should be all year round,” she said. “Increasing awareness across campus about the different cultures that make up our student body is really important.”
As of fall 2022, out of 8,243 total students, 2.8% are Hispanic. The percentage of Hispanic faculty is similar, at 3.3% out of 363 total members.
The Office for Inclusive Excellence (OIE) assisted SOL in planning the events. These included soccer games to celebrate the World Cup, a meet and greet for Hispanic and Latino people at SRU and a fiesta in the Quad, which Reisz called the “best celebration so far.”
“We had 134 people attend,” Reisz said. “It was awesome to see everybody having a good time there, smiling, hanging out with friends and getting to know each other.”
Some Hispanic Heritage Month events had support from the local community. Compadres, a local Mexican restaurant, catered the fiesta and Gavas, a Pittsburgh-based band, provided live Latin music.
Reisz and Pease-Hernandez described Hispanic and Latino cultural events that students attended in Pittsburgh. However, when asked about the Hispanic culture closer to SRU, Pease-Hernandez was unsure if there was one.
“Dr. Solano [SOL co-adviser] is part of a group … among a number of universities in the surrounding area that shares events that are happening for Hispanic Heritage Month,” Pease-Hernandez said. “That’s something that’s newer. We were pretty isolated before, but I think we’re trying to get the word out. We’re all doing something, so how can we support each other?”
SOL is preparing for one more event: a Día de los Muertos showcase on Nov. 2, which Pease-Hernandez called “the grand finale.” The showcase will feature guest performances from Jamrock and Rock Twirlers, along with performers in sugar skull makeup. The styling and choreography will be done by volunteers.
“It is so important to get out of your comfort zone and go to events,” said Pease-Hernandez. “Being in a rural area, it’s not easy to travel all the way to Pittsburgh or Cleveland to attend different cultural events. We bring them to students, and all students need to do is go.
“When you’re exposed to different cultural events, different cultures, different practices, it changes you. It expands your knowledge [and] overall helps you to become a more well-rounded student.”