Demand for Latinx graduation far exceeds 60 student capacity

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(Graphic by Michelle Williamson / The DePaulia)

Cynthia Rios has been planning for the Latino graduation banquet ever since she realized she was going to graduate on time despite struggling throughout her college career.

“When I found out that I was going to graduate, the Latino graduation was the first thing that I looked for because I knew that was a ceremony that my parents could understand,” Rios said.

Her heart dropped when she received an email saying that she was actually on the waitlist for the Latino graduation.

When Rios called the Center for Latino Research, she was told by a staff member that there had been a problem with the system and it did not put a cap on registration. They told her the email she received was not a confirmation, it was only verifying that the system received her request.

The second she was told she was number 84 on the waitlist, Rios knew there was no possibility she would receive a spot.

“It’s really depressing,” Rios said. “It’s like saying you worked so hard, wasted all this money and they rip away our pride.”

According to the Center for Latino Research, the Latino Graduation Banquet began in 1997 and has grown from around 100 graduating students and their families to nearly 300 guests including university faculty and administrators. They describe it as “a gathering of graduating students and loved ones to celebrate the academic accomplishments of the Latina/o community at DePaul University.”

If it were clear from the beginning that only 60 students would receive a spot and that others were placed on the waitlist, Rios said it would have been different. However, she said it was unfair of them to wait all this time to tell the students and suddenly she cannot attend anymore.

Rios had been looking for information about the Latino Graduation Banquet since the beginning of winter quarter.

One day, she received an email from the university about the graduation events, and she found a link to information about the Latino graduation. Rios said she had to send an email in order to receive the link with information about the banquet. Once she filled it out, she received what she thought was a confirmation email and began planning.

She bought a dress and, because her parents are always working, she made sure they requested the day off. Rios said her parents have been her main supporters and she would not have gotten through college without her father.

Rios said she was more excited about the Latino Graduation Banquet than the actual graduation ceremony.

“I was really excited because I knew this was a dinner for them,” Rios said. “It was an atmosphere where they didn’t have to feel overwhelmed. It was going to be their night.”

For many students like Rios, the Latino Graduation Banquet is not just for the graduates. It is also a celebration for their parents to honor all the sacrifices they made to make sure their children were able to go to college.

Michelle Ramirez is a senior double majoring in sociology and Latin American and Latino studies with a minor in peace, justice and conflict resolution. She knew DePaul held the Latino Graduation Banquet before even starting college because of a friend who attended DePaul and majored in Latino studies.

Ramirez said she also received an email about three weeks later saying she was waitlisted. She was looking forward to witnessing her parents’ pride in an academic setting.

“This banquet was a way for me to see all our hard work, the balancing of multiple jobs at once while being a full time student, pay off,” Ramirez said.

She said the energy at the Latino Graduation will be completely different from the official graduation ceremony. Ramirez was also planning to take her parents to the Latino Graduation Banquet. It was crucial for her father to attend because of his pending immigration case. Ramirez said her father, like so many other parents, already requested the day off from work only to be told they cannot attend.

“It is unfair for our parents to also be treated as less than,” Ramirez said.

She said she even wrote a dedication message on the Latino Graduation Banquet application.

“It is as if they made us write a significant phrase knowing the overwhelming chance of us not being able to attend,” Ramirez said.   

To take action, Ramirez composed a letter and shared it with students in the hopes they would send it to the Center for Latino Research to express their disappointment and feelings of being disrespected. Ramirez said she understands the event is planned by the time and energy of volunteers, but she thinks it should still be done well and students should not have to settle for less.

In response to Ramirez and other students, the Director of the Center for Latino Research, Elizabeth Martinez, sent a letter trying to explain the situation.

“It appears that many, many more Latina/o students are graduating at DePaul,” Martinez said in the letter. She explained that the Latino graduation banquet is usually held in either the Student Center or Cortelyou Commons. Martinez said they immediately seek the venue as soon as DePaul permits, but this year they were not as lucky and received the smaller venue, Cortelyou Commons.

Martinez also said in the letter that the Center for Latino Research provides funds to pay for the event, but it has become more costly each year. She said they are no longer able to fundraise from other departments and can only receive — not solicit — donations. Lastly, Martinez said the office now only has one staff member, so they have a heavier workload and were not able to respond to the RSVPs any sooner than three weeks.

“I feel very let down by the department, especially with the response letter they sent in which they said that they lacked funds and help to create the event,” Ramirez said.

She does not understand why there were no students active this year to help organize the graduation like prior years. Ramirez also said she does not understand why they did not reach out to individuals and councils composed of DePaul staff for funding.

“They need to be transparent with us and take on the responsibility of a poorly thought out event,” Ramirez said. “For now, there is nothing we can do. We cannot get another room. We do not have more funds,” Martinez concluded in the letter.

Ramirez said in the future she thinks students would be willing to fundraise and work with different organizations and departments who are “conscious of the experience of students of color at a predominately white institution of higher education.”

It seems to Ramirez that students have been overlooked. Since writing her letter explaining her disappointment and receiving the response letter from Martinez, Ramirez said she is not sure what her next steps will be, but it must be a student collaboration.