ROCHESTER — When Jessica Colorado began college at the University of Rochester, she missed the strong Latino culture she enjoyed at home.
Although she was confident in her decision to attend the university and major in chemistry, she longed for a community that best represented her. She soon found SALSA — UR’s Spanish and Latino Student Association.
"We hold programs and events that will show the student body what Latino culture is. We make food and have dances. We want to share it (Latino culture)," Colorado said.
Colorado, along with three other local undergraduate and graduate students, shared their stories during a breakout session at March 20’s "¡Soy Única! ¡Soy Latina!" rally. The breakout sessions were divided according to age. Colorado’s session, "Sorority Talk," was aimed at high-school freshman to seniors, while sixth- to eighth-graders attended a session titled "Healthy Relationships."
The "Sorority Talk" session was moderated by Iveth Reynolds of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs who also is a board member of Latinas Unidas, which coordinates the annual rally. The panel comprised two undergraduate students, UR students Colorado and Katherine Laureano, and two graduate students, Yversha Roman and Gloria Calderon.All of the panelists are members of a sorority or a campus Latino community.
"This panel is meant to give you an opportunity to talk to girls in undergrad and grad schools," Reynolds said in introducing the discussion. "They’re here to talk about their challenges and how they’ve paved the way in Latino communities."
The students began by talking about their majors. Roman, who graduated from Nazareth College with a degree in social work, said she always knew that she wanted to go into that field.
"I knew I just wanted to work with kids," she said.
Laureano, a UR senior, came to college as an undecided major.
"There was a lot of trial and error with classes," she explained to the participants. "But I ended up majoring in international relations."
The participants asked a number of questions about college, including such issues as scholarships, changing majors, historically black and Latino schools, and "party" schools.
"You can make bad decisions (at a party school)," Roman said. "You have to parent yourself. You want to enjoy your time at college, but you have to make good decisions, too."
Like Colorado, other panelists discussed their struggle to find a strong Latino community on campus. The panelists had generally come to Rochester from big cities, and they said that the transition to the local community proved to be difficult.
"When I first came to Rochester, nobody knew what a Dominican was," Calderon remarked. "But through my organization (Sigma Lambda Upsilon, Senoritas Latinas Unidas Sorority Inc. ), I started being able to teach people about my culture."
Teaching also was the focus of the "Healthy Relationships" session moderated by Bunny Dugo and Brian Allen from the Center for Youth, which offers counseling and an overnight shelter for runaways or homeless youths. Dugo and Allen led participants through a series of exercises meant to encourage healthy decisions in both platonic and romantic relationships.
In the first exercise, two volunteers were asked to sit cross-legged on the floor and hold each other’s wrists, and then try to stand up. After a bit of struggle, the girls were able to get to their feet. Then the same girls were asked to sit back to back, latching elbows from behind, and stand again. This time, the girls couldn’t make it happen.
Allen asked participants why they thought the girls were able to stand the first time, but not the second. Participants noted that when the two girls were back to back, they couldn’t see when the other one was struggling. Allen explained that the exercise was meant to be a metaphor for relationships, and that it’s important to communicate well in any relationship.
"You want to make sure you’re seeing eye-to-eye," Allen explained.
"There are challenges in relationships, but you can talk them out," Dugo added. "You compromise."
The next exercise was centered around a series of scenarios. The girls would listen to a scenario involving a relationship with a friend or significant other, and then decide if they would stay in the relationship or leave. One corner of the room signified staying, and another signified leaving, and the girls would move about as necessary. In one of the scenarios, you see your friend flirting with your crush. Eleven girls said they would leave the relationship, and seven said they would stay.
The session wrapped up with a handout called "My Dating Wish List," and the girls were encouraged to write the things they wanted in a relationship, and those they could do without.