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Sunday, February 5, 2023

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Director Renzo Lara photographed at SDSU's Latinx Resource Center. Director Renzo Lara photographed at SDSU's Latinx Resource Center.
 


Latinx Resource Center Director Comes 'Full Circle'

Renzo Lara was selected to lead the center, which celebrated its grand opening this week.
By Aaron Burgin
 

When Renzo Lara arrived at San Diego State University as a 2006 transfer student from Southwestern College, he struggled to find a place where he belonged. 

 

His grades suffered and he contemplated leaving school. 

 

“Like a lot of students making that transition, I was lost,” Lara said. “There wasn’t a space like this.”

 

“This” is the Latinx Resource Center, the vibrant office in the basement of Love Library that provides Latinx students with academic support, social activities and a place where they can develop as leaders with commitments to social and racial justice. The center celebrated its grand opening on Nov. 29.

 

And Lara, who shook off his early academic struggles to earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from SDSU, was recently named the center’s new director. 

 

“It’s a full-circle moment for me, and it means a lot to me to be back at SDSU, doing the work that I’m really passionate about and is at the core of who I am,” Lara said. 

 

The Latinx Resource Center originally opened in February 2020 after years of advocacy by student organizations, including Central Americans for Empowerment, MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán), Education Without Borders, and Association of Chicana Activists). 

 

SDSU, which is a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution, saw the resource center as a key piece of its retention efforts for the university’s Latinx population, which comprises 33 percent — 11,808 — of the university’s 35,723 students.

 

Note the date: One month later, it was forced into virtual operations. 

 

It moved into the Love Library space in 2021, which has undergone a major facelift that was unveiled to the public in the grand opening. A brilliantly colorful mural from the XoQUE Art in Action collective, which features sapphire blue waves, a hibiscus, hummingbirds and a pair of palms, adorns the walls with the message “We Are Tied to Each Other’s Liberation” atop the artwork. Well-lit study spaces and newly installed flooring are features of the renovated space. 

 

The center hosts weekly programs for students, including En Confianza @ SDSU, a support group for students facing culture shock, generational differences or challenges belonging to two different cultures; and Joteria Sin Fronteras, a support group for students who identify as Latinx and LGBTQIA+.

 

Lara, who was director of California State University San Marcos’ Latinx Center from 2018 until he was hired by his alma mater in October, said the creation and expansion of the LRC was one of the reasons he wanted to return. 

 

For years, Lara said, the one place where historically underrepresented students could find a space for them was the Center for Intercultural Relations, on the western end of campus near what is now the International Student Center. 

 

Over the years, SDSU has reaffirmed its commitment to students from underserved populations with the opening of nine cultural centers, including the Black Resource Center, APIDA Center, Pride Center and Women’s Resource Center, among others.

 

“It was nice to have a space (CIR), but it wasn’t in the middle of campus, and it took time to find it and to get connected,” Lara said. “When I came back to SDSU as a staff member in 2016, we had three centers; Pride (Center) had just opened, and we were building momentum. But this time around, one thing that attracted me to come back was the transformation of the campus, and its commitment to social justice and racial justice has grown tremendously over that time.”

 

J. Luke Wood, the vice president of SDSU’s Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity, said the Latinx Resource Center is a major piece of the university’s commitment to its Latinx community. Other steps, he said, include “cluster hires of faculty members with a demonstrated record of success in serving the Latinx community, expanded scholarships for students interested in the Latinx experience, support for Latinx-focused employee resource groups, communitywide programming during Hispanic Heritage Month, and receiving the Seal of Excelencia for being an exemplary Latinx serving institution."

 

“Since 2018, under President Adela De La Torre’s leadership, we have advanced significant efforts to foster an environment of success for our Latinx students, faculty and staff,” Wood said. 

 

The center’s opening in Love Library is “a real accomplishment,” Lara said. “I think that it’s a culmination of a lot of sacrifice and hardships of so many generations to get us to this point..”

 

Before setting goals for the center, Lara wants “to get an understanding of our programs, see how we can best serve students while building trust and coalitions within the community.” 

 

“I would also love to see this space continue to grow and scale up,” he said. 

 

Lailah Rivera, a third-year transfer commuter student from Palm Springs, said the Latinx Resource Center 

 

 is an amazing space. It’s like my second home, and it provides me a place to study in a more private setting, and it’s helped me make friends and connections.” 

 

“I think (the grand opening) is great, everyone should hear about this space and see the beautiful murals and how beautiful the community is,” Rivera said. 

 

Visit the Latinx Resource Center in Room 182 of the Love Library from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays. Contact the center at 619-594-4333 or via email at latinxresourcecenter@sdsu.edu.