This past week, I had the opportunity to sit down (or rather sign on to Zoom that is) with Gianna Rodriguez, who contributes to the Arts & Academia section of the Bennington Beacon. However, we didn’t discuss her work for the Beacon. Rodriguez is currently trying to develop a new Hispanic Student Union, independent from other groups in the past, with assistance from Ara Aman ‘21 of the International Student Task Force. The idea for a new organization came about during conversations Rodriguez had with a friend about how neither of them would be home for Thanksgiving this year. They decided to throw an event where Bennington’s Latinx students could come together to cook meals from their different family backgrounds. Rodriguez pointed out to me that Latinx families celebrate Thanksgiving differently than non-Hispanic families typically do, if at all. “There’s not a turkey or gravy or any of that. It’s usually our own dishes from our own countries, so we wanted to do something communal like that.” This, according to Rodriguez, would have also functioned as the inaugural meeting for the new HSU. However, plans for such an in-person event were effectively put to an end following the announcement made on November 16th that all Bennington College classes would be taught remotely.
Rodriguez intends to spend Winter Break and Field Work Term continuing to work on the new student organization. She recognizes that much of the outreach for the group will be towards “freshmen, sophomores, possibly juniors. My goal is going to be finding those students to begin with, since Hispanics on this campus are incredibly separated, and kind of underground.” The idea is to reach out to many of the House Chairs in order to get a sense of house populations for possible members. On the objectives of her proposed union, Rodriguez had this to say: “The goal would be to just remind Latinx students that we are on this campus, and that it doesn’t matter if you’re domestic, or from another country. We all have the same roots, even though we are a very small portion of the student body. I feel like that’s even a bigger reason to unite.” Speaking about the school’s administration, she hopes that an HSU will provide awareness to the community about Latinx experiences. “I feel like administration doesn’t take Hispanic students’ consideration into mind. We’re kind of an afterthought, so the goal would be to create a stronger voice at this school for Hispanic students.”
Something that differentiates Bennington from other colleges is the population size. With six hundred currently enrolled students, students with shared experiences are often able to find one another quicker than if they were at a larger school. The kind of group that Rodriguez has in mind will make that even easier, as it means to help Hispanic students realize that they are not alone here, and that there are students on campus who share their cultural or linguistic background. Perhaps through strengthening the Latinx community at Bennington, an HSU will allow for more understanding between students who do not share Hispanic identities.