By Julia Duvall
A sense of belonging is what many students envision as part of their college experience; somewhere that gives them purpose, a group to be part of and to share in cultural activities they are most familiar with or are interested in learning more about.
This is where the Latinx Appreciation Student Organization at Western Carolina University comes in. The purpose of LASO is to promote awareness within and outside the Latinx community, cultivate a campuswide awareness of different Latino cultures and create unity within the WCU community.
“We have different social, cultural and education programs as well as fun events on and off campus,” said LASO president and senior Eliana Cruz. “We are young people that come from all over, with different backgrounds and experiences, but have the common passion for learning about culture.”
Any student at WCU can become a member of LASO, even if they are not of Latin American or Latinx/Hispanic descent. Students of all backgrounds are invited to join.
“It specifically states in our constitution anybody can join; in fact, we’ve had members in leadership positions that were in LASO all four years with no Latin American or Latino/Hispanic roots,” Cruz said. “They stepped up because they believed in the mission of this student organization and have a true appreciation for our culture.”
Cruz, who is from Charlotte and of Dominican Republic descent, credits LASO with giving students a sense of belonging.
“LASO is somewhere you can find people that become lifelong friends because of a shared appreciation for a culture,” Cruz said. “We have a much larger diversity ratio than we did when I first joined. LASO has been a huge part of my college experience. I just clicked with my fellow LASO members and have made lasting relationships.”
WCU faculty support is also vital to LASO’s success.
“Dr. (John) Kennedy, director of the U.S. Latinx Studies program, provided resources to transport students to our recent National Hispanic Heritage Month festival,” Cruz said. “We have such a strong community here at WCU and that sets students on the path to success for graduation and beyond.”
Cruz said events can draw anywhere from 30 on game nights to 80+ with bigger campuswide events.
“Recruitment this year has been awesome,” she said. “Bigger events get more attendance obviously, but even our smaller, more informal events are getting a great turnout. I am hopeful that our Greek student engagement grows as well.”
While WCU does have a Latinx sorority on campus, there is no fraternity yet, but chartering a chapter is in the works, said Cruz.
“We are working to gain more interest in chartering a chapter and I am encouraged by the new interest level of the students this year in getting the fraternity on campus,” Cruz said. “I have reached back out to the Lambdas and have made some connections with a fraternity member in Knoxville, so I am excited to see where this leads us. I hope to see a Latin fraternity on campus by the time I graduate.”