Latino Student Alliance offers new ways of exploring diversity


This semester, Jose Perez and Owen Shelnutt founded the Latino Student Alliance at
Maryville College.

Part of the inspiration for LSA came from attending a workshop called Access, Retention and
Completion for Latino Students. Perez, Dr. Doug Sofer, associate professor of history at MC;
Vandy Kemp, dean of students; Preston Fields, director of community engagement and Rick
Brand, director of financial aid all represented MC at this two-day workshop sponsored by the
Appalachian College Association.

By attending the workshop, MC was eligible to apply for a grant in order to help increase the
retention rate and number of incoming freshman from the Latino community. Of the 25 schools
that attended the workshop, MC was one of the 8 schools to receive the grant.
During the two-day workshop, there were many presentations on the growing Latino
population. Perez, sophomore and president of LSA, learned that even though the Hispanic
population was growing very quickly in the United States, many students of Hispanic
background were either not attending or not graduating from college. He was shocked by this
fact and wanted to do something to change it.

The goal of LSA is to reach out to MC students of Hispanic descent and students that are
interested in Latin American culture. Perez also hopes that LSA will serve as a support system to
Latino students and give the members a sense of family during their four years at MC.

“For Latinos specifically, in my opinion, family or having that system of family is really
important,” Perez said. “If LSA is there, hopefully that student who does come from a Hispanic
background or who has interest in a Hispanic background can relate to that family sense.
Hopefully that would help them make the decision to stay here on campus.”
Sofer specializes in Latin American history and is the faculty advisor for LSA. While
doing his dissertation research in Columbia, he experienced many of the same feelings Latino
immigrants feel in the United States.

“I learned what it was like to be a stranger in another culture and to have to learn another
language—for that reason I’m sympathetic to people in that situation in my own country,” Sofer

Sofer claims that LSA will give a voice to the Latino students on campus and give students
who do not identify as Latino a chance to learn about the history of the culture, which is diverse
in itself. In the United States, the word “Latino” refers to Hispanic people from many different
countries, each with a unique cultural background.
Shelnutt, sophomore and vice president of LSA, pointed out that Maryville College is
committed to diversity, acceptance and understanding and LSA would add to the diversity at

“I just like the idea of people coming together, and I agree that LSA is something that needs
to be done, especially nowadays when immigration is such a big issue,” Shelnutt said. “People
are constantly discriminating against people of all backgrounds.”

LSA hopes to combat stereotypes of Latinos by hosting educational events on Latin American
culture. Perez plans to host a campus-wide dance featuring Latin music and food, where LSA
can also use the opportunity to teach fellow students about the Hispanic culture behind the music
and food.

Already, there is a good amount of buzz about LSA within the MC community. Hayley
Clanton, sophomore at MC, is already looking forward to participating in the organization.

“It would be really good to learn what I can about issues relating to the Hispanic community
at the college and in general to become a bit more mindful of the multi-faceted cultures therein,”
Clanton said. “Plus, I believe it would be great to see LSA work with the GSA and BSA to
organize events and discuss issues where these groups would intersect.”

LSA will meet weekly on Thursdays. Anyone interested in being a part of LSA may contact
Perez or Shelnutt.

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