As a Butler University undergraduate student, Gwen Valles ʼ21 worked as an intern in the Office of University Advancement, where her primary responsibility was collecting thank you notes for Butler scholarship donors from their student recipients. In the course of her work, Valles noticed there were no existing Butler scholarships designated for Latinx students, nor any established alumni communities for Latinx graduates.
“The lack of representation and scholarships motivated me,” Valles says. “I started collecting information on how to create an alumni group and how to establish scholarships through Butler University. I wanted to establish something that would have a lasting impact on Latinx students at Butler.”
Valles worked with Butler’s Community Engagement staff in reaching out to alumni to gauge interest in establishing a new Latinx alumni community. A number of alumni responded to express interest in participating, and eventually a group of five emerged as a steering committee to move the idea into action. Daniel Aguilar ʼ14 is serving as the inaugural Chair of the Latinx Alumni Association (LXAA), which was officially established earlier this year. Valles continues in her leadership of the group as a member of the steering committee. Other steering committee members include Emily Newell Keller ’11, Sara Marshall ’06, and Cristina McNeiley ’17.
Assembled in August of 2021, the LXAA strives to connect alumni and students who identify within the Latin American and Hispanic communities to Butler University and one another through social, cultural, and educational programming, with the ultimate goal of assisting Butler student success and further strengthening the Butler Latinx community.
“From my personal experience, at a predominately white institution it can be hard to find yourself,” Aguilar says. “A lot of students struggle with a sense of identity and feeling connected to their culture, especially when they’re not seeing many other people who look like them. So we want to facilitate an environment where students are able to connect and learn from each other and feel like they belong. It feels great to be part of the group that can give that back to students, and we hope that Latinx faculty and staff will be part of this too, because we’re trying to build that sense of community that we wish had existed for us when we were students.”
Though the group had a presence at Butler Homecoming in September and during Family Weekend in October, the Latinx Alumni Association will host its first official meeting, La Primera Charla, via Zoom on December 9 at 7:00 PM. The meeting is open to all Butler alumni who identify within the Latin American and Hispanic communities. Unlike regional alumni communities that are based upon geographic location, the Latinx Alumni Association is an identity group open to alumni from any geographic location.
Like all alumni communities, the Latinx Alumni Association supports the broader mission of the Butler University Alumni Association in engaging and supporting Butler alumni throughout their lives. The formation of the Latinx Alumni Association is an important step in the Butler University Alumni Association’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and to creating a culture where all members of the Butler community feel welcome and are able to belong and contribute to their fullest potential.
“Every Butler graduate remains an important part of the Butler community, so our efforts to more fully realize Ovid Butler’s founding vision of an equitable environment for all include our alumni,” says Danny Kibble, Executive Director of Advancement for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives & Family Philanthropy. “Butler is committed to encouraging the lifelong success and development of every Bulldog, and we are thrilled to support the growing Latinx community at Butler through the Latinx Alumni Association.”
One of the group’s first and primary goals is to establish a mentorship program between Latinx Alumni Association members and Butler students involved in the Latinx Student Union in order to provide encouragement and support to current students.
“A lot of Latinx students that come to college are first-generation students, myself included, so growing up I didn’t have a whole lot of guidance from my parents about what to expect or what to do to succeed in college,” Aguilar says. “So I remember going home and telling my mom about what was going on at Butler and she could provide a lot of emotional support, but not so much in the tangible resources of things I needed to know and get done to move forward. That’s where mentors came in and were very instrumental in my development. So that’s one of our main goals, to provide that same mentorship and guidance to other students to help them succeed.”
Marcos Navarro-Garcia ʼ22, a current Butler student involved in the Latinx Student Union, says that mentorship from Butler alumni will be a welcome addition for Latinx students.
“For us, this is a new level of representation, connection, and support,” Navarro-Garcia says. “It excites me to think that current and future Latinx Butler students will have access to an incredible network of passionate, talented leaders who were all able to receive their degree from Butler University.”
Navarro-Garcia works on campus as an Associate Coordinator of Multicultural Student Engagement in the Efroymson Diversity Center, where he works to ensure students feel a sense of belonging at Butler. He concedes that some Latinx alumni may not have experienced a deep sense of belonging during their time at Butler, but that the LXAA provides a new opportunity to find that sense of community with fellow Butler graduates.
“I hope to see Latinx alumni called back to the Butler community with the mission of helping current Latinx students graduate despite the challenges they face,” Navarro-Garcia says. “Even if these Latinx alumni may have left Butler with very isolating and tough experiences, we can all agree that we do not want that for any more Latinx students on our campus. The brave individuals who have been able to successfully navigate Butler as Latinx students are the perfect leaders and role models for the students who need them the most.”
Along with launching a mentorship program, Valles says those days of collecting scholarship thank you notes as a student intern also inspired a desire to eventually be able to work with other alumni and interested groups to establish a scholarship at Butler for Latinx students.
“Our demographic needs targeted funding to ensure that we also get the opportunity of enjoying our Butler experience,” Valles says. “We are a rising minority, and schools need to be equipped to properly support the influx of Latinx students they will receive in the near future. The Butler University Latinx Alumni Association is young, but we will work hard to evolve into a strong support system for these students. I came into Butler as a first-generation college student, and I found a home in the Latinx Student Union. I hope the Latinx Alumni Association connects us beyond our undergraduate years.”
To learn more or connect with the Latinx Alumni Association, visit the LXAA Facebook page or Bulldogs Connect. Register for the virtual meeting (La Primera Charla) on December 9 here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.