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Three of La Gente founders: Carmen, Diana, and Bridget (left to right) at the School of Public Policy's Welcome-Back event. Photo: Courtesy

Four UMD policy students are changing the lack of Latino student representation in the field

La Gente, a Latinx student organization focuses on building community and empowering Latinx policy students or those passionate about Latino policy.

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Four public policy students at the University of Maryland (UMD) are changing the lack of representation of Latinx students in the School of Public Policy: Carmen Chamarro, Diana Carrillo, Bridget Ruiz Rivezzo, and Katherine Badia— founder of La Gente, a public policy student organization for Latinx students aimed at building community, providing networking opportunities, and empowering undergraduate and graduate Latinx students. 

The group felt motivated to create “something that reinforces our Latinidad” at the School of Public Policy after hearing a guest speaker from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus discuss the issues impacting Latinos, said Diana, who adds that they wanted to solidify and strengthen representation because “It is easy to fall into impostor syndrome when you do not see people that represent you.” 

“We saw a need to create that space where we would feel safe, where we could find people with similar experiences,” said Carmen Chamarro, who notes, “I did not have the tools or the communication necessary to adapt well to the program,” as an international student at the School of Public Policy. 

For the Fall 2022 semester, 11.4% of undergraduate students at the School of Public Policy self-identified as Hispanic/ Latino, of which 40 students (graduate and undergraduate students) are members of La Gente, said Diana. 

Carmen has been working on political innovation in Latin America since completing her undergraduate studies in public policy and shares, establishing La Gente with the intent to allow Latino students “to have a space where they could ask people… where they could go and have the tools to come to the program and take advantage of it.” 

La Gente collaborates with other groups and organizations. In April, hosted a picnic with Black Students in Public Policy (BSIPP) to share about their cultures and foods—many students were unfamiliar with Nicaragua, explains Carmen, but now students know about it because “I keep bringing Nicaragua up, and I bring my clothes and my food, and I keep telling them about our culture [and] and politics.” 

La Gente also functions as an advocacy organization that Diana wants to continue to build the student community on campus; for Hispanic Heritage Month, the founders of La Gente will focus on fostering relationships among students and providing networking opportunities to help undergraduate students build their portfolios and secure internships. 

“It is hard to find people who you can look up to as mentors and that look like you and speak your native language on campus,” assured Diana, who will graduate alongside Carmen in Spring 2024 and hope the organization continues after their departure. 

“To continue existing, we need more participation from undergraduate students,” Carmen assured. “We need commitment. We need people passionate about Latinx policies and want to see our community represented.”

The graduate students will soon be focusing on their capstone respectively, but “La Gente is going to be one of our priorities, but we want to hit the ground running as soon as fall semester starts, connecting with the other organizations on campus [to recruit] more undergraduate students,” Diana concluded.


 

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