Outgoing Student Council president reflects on initiatives to support marginalized communities

Fourth-year College student Alex Cintron is the first Latinx Student Council president in the University’s history

Cintron reflected on his term as Student Council president during a transition ceremony held April 7. Geremia Di Maro | Cavalier Daily

Before his first meeting with University President Jim Ryan as Student Council president, Alex Cintron said he debated if it was necessary to wear a formal jacket, shirt and tie for the discussion. Instead, to the meeting with Ryan, Cintron opted to wear a Guayabera, a casual four-pocket shirt popular in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. 

As the first Latinx Student Council president in the University’s history Cintron said that, while he felt uncomfortable in some environments which the position required him to engage with, his perspective empowered him to act differently than previous Student Council presidents. 

“This is my form of resisting what has been the normal narrative for Student Council president,” Cintron said. 

In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Cintron, a fourth-year College student and now-former Student Council President, reflected on the achievements and policy objectives of his term in office, which officially ended April 7 with the swearing-in of third-year College student Ellie Brasacchio. 

Cintron said it is difficult to fully reflect on the effects of the perspective he brought to the position at the time but added that it informed his leadership style and focus on policy every step of the way. 

“It felt very empowering to come in to the position with almost full support of what I felt like was my community,” Cintron said. “It made me more self conscious of like, why am I here? What am I doing? What issues I should push, and how hard should I push them?” 

Cintron said outreach and providing support to minority student organizations on Grounds have been a central component of his administration. He added that Student Council has worked closely with the leadership of organizations such as the Black Student Alliance, the Latinx Student Association and the Asian Leadership Council to better understand their needs and concerns. 

In October, Student Council supported the Asian Leadership Council’s report on academic reform — titled “We Are Not Invisible” — and the “Our University to Shape” proposal which was released by the Latinx community. The “Our University to Shape” proposal calls on the administration to improve conditions for Latinx students on Grounds through means such as admitting more Hispanic and Latinx students, providing them with the necessary support to thrive and offering translated financial aid documents

In addition to conversations with University administration regarding the implementation of the proposals, Cintron said he has advocated for the development of Latinx and Asian-American studies major programs at the University. Of the various concerns detailed in the ALC report, the establishment of an American Studies department is proposed as a means for creating diverse academic spaces on Grounds. 

Currently, students may pursue an interdisciplinary major through the University’s American Studies program, although formal departmental status would allow students more flexibility and choice in choosing courses related to Latinx or Asian-American Studies.

“It's not enough just to be like, ‘Oh, I want to increase diversity on Grounds.’ Everybody can say that,’” Cintron said. “You need to be able to propose the actual policy things because what communities of color or communities of marginalized background — whether it's low income… women or women of color, and so forth — what they want to hear is what you're going to do to actually help them.” 

Cintron added that the liberalization of Student Council’s policy regarding the Student Activities Fee in August has served as a means for increasing funding and support for multicultural student organizations. The SAF funding policy now allows student groups to use Student Council funds to purchase food for an event when it contributes to their mission or mission statement. SAF funds are drawn from the Student Activities Fee, a $50 semesterly fee that each student pays to support Student Council’s funding of Contracted Independent Organizations. 

“That has been very beneficial for multicultural organizations because showcasing culture and food is part of their mission,” Cintron said. “And that has been able to alleviate financial stress off of them in terms of other funding sources.” 

During the last Student Council meeting of his term April 2, Cintron also announced the creation of two ad-hoc presidential committees — the Open Housing Exploration Committee and the Latinx Space Exploratory Committee. 

Cintron tasked the open housing committee with taking “any necessary means to collect qualitative and quantitative data in order to provide a recommendation on the question of the viability of gender-neutral housing in first-year dorms at the University.” Members of the open housing committee will be appointed by Student Council’s Diversity Engagement Committee with additional appointments possible by the Student Council president. The open housing committee is expected to complete its work by the end of the fall 2019 semester. 

Housing and Residence Life has offered an open housing option for upperclass students since the 2015-2016 academic year in which individuals can request a roommate independent of one’s gender identity. However, the option is currently only offered at certain upperclassmen apartment complexes and graduate student housing units — including Bice, Copeley, Faulkner, Lambeth and Brandon Avenue residences. 

The Latinx space committee has been tasked with collecting qualitative and quantitative data to provide a recommendation to the University with regards to creating a Latinx student space at the University. Members will also be appointed by the Diversity Engagement Committee with additional appointments possible by the Student Council president. The Latinx space committee is expected to release a recommendation by the end of this semester. 

Since the release of the Our University to Shape proposal in October, there have been increased calls from members of the Latinx community for the creation of a Latinx space on Grounds to supplement the existing Multicultural Student Center which was established in October 2016 and is located in the basement of Newcomb Hall. There are currently 1,078 Hispanic undergraduate students — a 22 percent increase from 882 students in 2013 and an 85 percent increase from 584 students a decade ago. 

Other initiatives Cintron cited from his administration include allowing students to print for free at the Programs and Councils Office in Newcomb Hall between April 15 and final exams this semester from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday through Thursday and the University’s ongoing installation and stocking of machines that dispense free pads and tampons in certain women’s restrooms around Grounds. However, a continued source of University funding has yet to be identified if the program is made fully permanent. 

This development is the culmination of months of Student Council-run trial projects, which have involved placing free menstrual hygiene products in women’s restrooms in Newcomb Hall, Madison House and libraries around Grounds. The projects were intended to demonstrate demand for this program to the University administration in the hope that Facilities Management would begin to provide funding for the initiative and that the initiative would be made permanent throughout Grounds. 

“You need to deliver it to students, you can’t just warm the seat for a year,” Cintron said. “You need to actually act like you ran on something, and then you're going to accomplish those things, and accomplish as much as you can.”

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