October 15, 2018 | ° F

Center celebrates founder’s contributions to Latino community

Ceremony fundraises for at-risk youth programs, research grant

Photo by Shirley Yu |

Sandra Rocio-Castro, co-founder of the Rutgers Latino Alumni Association, speaks Saturday about her experiences with the Center for Latino Arts and Culture at the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus.

Edward Ortiz fought for 18 years to establish a home where Latino students could connect and promote their issues at the University. But he had little to show for his efforts other than a handwritten manifesto.

His vision was finally realized in 1992 with the founding of the Center for Latino Arts and Culture.

The CLAC celebrated its 20th anniversary Saturday at the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus with a gala honoring notable members’ contributions while reflecting on its progress over the years, said Carlos Fernández, director of the CLAC.

“The center was established to highlight the contributions of Latinos to the United States and also research and promote our understanding of Latin American traditions throughout the world,” he said.

The CLAC plans conferences and designs curricula in Latino departments, which CLAC staff sometimes teach, said Sandra Rocío Castro, Acting Dean of Students on Busch campus. It includes study abroad programs in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica.

The center thanked Ortiz for his effort on starting the center, beginning with his tenure in the 1970s, said Susan Schrepfer, his wife.

Schrepfer, a professor in the history department, said though the need for the center now seems obvious, it was difficult to get it established.

“There was a struggle for the site, the staff and what the responsibilities of everyone would be,” she said.

Castro said she was another honoree, and was recognized for her 12 years at the CLAC, first as assistant director and later as associate director.

Castro said she met artists and worked with the New Brunswick community and began the Alternate Spring Break program, which gives students the opportunity to spend time in the Dominican Republic.

She said she plans to continue helping with CLAC programs and advising the board.

“The CLAC is small, but it does so much work,” she said.

Over the years, the center has hosted art exhibits, music, dance and theater events, Fernández said.

The center also coordinates with Latino student organizations, said Karla Torres, chapter representative for Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha Incoporada.

“The [CLAC] helps us put our name out there and gives us great involvement with the Latino community. We get to meet many other people as well at the center,” said Torres, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.

Luis Rojas, the political chair of the Latino Student Council, said his group hosts all meetings at the CLAC, so the entire board was invited to the event for free.

“We all try to give a voice to the Latino student population at the University,” said Rojas, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student.

After the ceremony, the center auctioned off art by Latino artists from New Jersey and New York, Fernández said.

“The art is all excellent and affordable, though hopefully not too affordable,” said LisMery Ramirez, the mistress of the ceremony.

Fernández said the money raised would go toward leadership, mentoring and outreach for at-risk youth programs in New Brunswick, as well as an undergraduate research grant.

Karen Stubaus, vice president for Academic Affairs and Administration, said she has visited the center and sees it as a gem in the University community.

“It has an informal, friendly environment,” she said. “It’s a home away from home and an entry point for Latino students.”

She said she often hears about students sleeping over at the center, with Vilma Perez, the special events coordinator, cooking dinner for the entire community.

Brenda Lopez, who founded the Latino Student Council and helped found CLAC, addressed not only the contributions of the CLAC but the students who worked for Latino advocacy.

“When you as a student think you don’t have power, you’ve been brainwashed,” she said. “You have the power.”

Lopez, director of Student Support Services?at the Newark campus, reminded the 60 undergraduates there to continue to fight disadvantageous circumstances to get their degree.

“The only thing no one will be able to take from you is your education,” she said.

By Erin Petenko

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