For many of the Hispanic and Latino students on campus, shared elements of language and culture have brought community and a sense of belonging here on campus. For Dolores Mora, the president of the Latin American Student Association, fostering this community and sharing that feeling has become an important goal.
But for many students on campus, that community was undermined by the use of the term “Latinx,” which served as the club name for many years. The term was developed with the best of intentions as a way to refer to Latino people in a gender-neutral form. However, its use is better described as yet another label not heard in their language, communities, or culture. What began with an intent to unite only succeeded in further alienation.
This was the problem Mora became aware of several years ago as she spoke with other Latino students on campus. Increasingly, she found students both in and out of the Latinx Club who were uncomfortable with the title. For one student, the name alone was a deal breaker. “I was asking a student who was also Latin American,” Mora recalled, “he was always helping out with the club and always willing to do things for us, but he never wanted to join it.” When asked why, he stated that he simply didn’t feel represented by the name. There was no sense of belonging. 
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other structural changes in the club, it was not until the beginning of this academic year that a new name was settled on. Latin American Student Association, or LASA as it is now known, was the chosen title with the intention of broadening the umbrella and building a stronger community. “We want to be inclusive of all students. It doesn’t matter what your background is or what country you’re from. We want this to be an organization that helps our students but also sheds light on and embraces our culture in our community.” 
Language also plays a crucial role in developing that sense of community, and Mora embraces it whenever possible. “I’ve met a whole bunch of freshmen who speak Spanish and every time I see them, I’m like, ‘Hola, cómo estás!’ We start chatting it up in Spanish and it just makes me happy. It makes me feel that I’m in a place where I can find people and I can confide in people who understand me.” While some may see this as a language barrier, Mora views embracing it as an opportunity for growth and diversity on campus. 
This perspective is also reflected in her intentions for LASA. “For one of our events we had Brazilians come. And some people asked, ‘What about Brazil? What about people from Spain?’ … and I said LASA is for everyone, the Hispanics, the Latinos,” explained Mora. A child of Dominican parents born in the United States, she confidently identifies herself as Dominican as well. Throughout the conversation, it is abundantly clear that her language and culture are built on community, not borders. 
Mora also pushed back against the notion that the club was exclusive to those who claimed membership in that community. She encourages anyone with a desire to engage with Latin American culture to consider joining or simply participate in events. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, we are just here to create an environment where we will all learn, we will all share our cultures, we will all experience the music together, the food together.” 
Mora’s vision for the club is not limited to only a celebration of culture, however; she sees the club as an opportunity to provide meaningful support to its members with the unique struggles they often face. In Mora’s case, this problem became apparent one year when she was unable to afford travel to join her family in the Dominican Republic for Christmas, and she was not alone in that. “A lot of students who come from countries like Venezuela […] from Puerto Rico, […] from Mexico, […] can’t go back home so they stay here for the holidays—one day we want to provide a way for them to go home.” She understands the ambition behind projects such as this, and she embraces the challenge. 
It’s confidence and trust built on the defining theme for LASA this year: faith. Mora looks to the text from Hebreos 11:1, “La fe es tener confianza en lo que esperamos, es tener certeza de lo que no vemos,” or Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” [7,8] It is through this ethic that she and the broader team in LASA, Hispanic Ministries, and the Hispanic Faculty and Staff Association has sought to foster this community of faith.
Interview with Dolores Mora, 10/11/2023.
Nueva Versión Internacional - Español. (n.d.). YouVersion. https://www.bible.com/es/search/bible?query=hebreos%2011%3A1%20NVI
New International Version. (n.d.). BibleGateway. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews%2011%3A1&version=NIV
Dolores Mora. Dolores Mora is the president of the Latin American Student Association. Photo by Caidyn Boyd on Oct. 18, 2023.