“We’re really cool and really fun. We’re really eye-catching and
enduring. We care a lot.”
That is Unidad in a nutshell, according to the president of the organization, Gabidel Miranda (‘18). After observing the work the group is doing on Latinx students among campus, Miranda’s words ring true.
Unidad was founded in 2002 and operates under the Office of Multicultural Outreach. The group is led by a cabinet made up of Miranda (President), Cristina Guevara (Vice President and Business Manager), Sarai Lopez (Events Coordinator), Estefania Hernandez (Chaplain) and Emanuel Acosta (Publicity Manager).
“Unidad is the group on campus for anyone who celebrates or desires to explore their Latin heritage,” Miranda said. “We focus on building community as we celebrate, explore and develop an identity in Christ.”
More so, Unidad hopes “to reflect the Kingdom of God by portraying unity amidst diversity,” according to Hernandez (‘21). Unidad achieves this mission through weekly dinners at Saga called “mesas,” along with movie nights, one-on-one meetings, monthly homemade meals and larger group events.
“There’s a super high emphasis on the relational aspect of our club. We’re not just hosting a dance. Every event that we have, we’re trying to create a space where people are building connections,” Guevara (‘18) said.
To achieve these connections, cabinet members make themselves readily available and initiate one-on-one conversations with students over meals or study times.
For a student who is part of a minority group at Wheaton, adjusting to the environment — especially as a freshman — can present some challenges.
A major way Unidad works to care for their students is to walk alongside them and initiate dialogue as they discover more about their ethnic identity and strive to embrace it.
Hernandez spoke about the influence this care has brought her during her time at Wheaton.
“When I came here, I experienced what you would call ‘culture shock.’ I didn’t know how to deal with that … I missed hearing people speaking in Spanish and I missed seeing my culture. Even though there are Hispanics here, my particular ethnicity is Colombian and there was very little Colombian representation; that was a little upsetting,” Hernandez said.
“The Lord really tugged at my heart to be that representation for the campus if no one else does it. So I began to be more involved with Unidad.”
Now, Chaplain Hernandez is able to work closely with students of all Latinx backgrounds as they discover their ethnic identity as well as their spiritual identity.
Within the Latinx community, there are numerous smaller communities, many of which are represented by the Unidad cabinet. “This year is actually the year that our cabinet [is] most diverse. We’re all from different backgrounds and I’m so happy and proud of that,” said Miranda, who is a Mexican-American.
The other cabinet members represent the diverse heritage of Colombia, El Salvador, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica.
“We don’t all fit the same mold,” Hernandez said. “We don’t aim for uniformity, we aim for unity.” Indeed, the name of the group, Unidad, reflects this mission. In Spanish, Unidad means “unity.”
“It speaks to how we as a whole, as a body of Christ, should be united with each other. Coming from similar backgrounds … we should unite in those beautiful similarities and connections,” said Miranda.
Students have a chance to exchange their unique traditions at Unidad’s yearly retreat. “There was a time to tell our stories and how we got there and it was cool to see how everyone has a different story within their Latin background,”
Hernandez said. “When we would listen to music, it was nice to hear music that I hadn’t heard in a long time since I’d been here.”
Although uniting Latinx students is Unidad’s primary goal, the organization also hosts events that allow students of other backgrounds to gain exposure to Latinx culture and unite with those of a different ethnic background.
Hispanic Heritage Month, which lasts from Sept. 15 through Oct. 14, offers an opportunity. Alongside their usual weekly activities, Unidad is hosting a dance in conjunction with College Union, as well as a taquiza and a Coffee House in celebration.
Members of the organization will also appear in chapel alongside upcoming guest speakers. “We’re eager for each of the chapels Unidad has supported us in planning,” said the Chaplain’s Office in an email.
Students who wish to immerse themselves more into Latinx culture are encouraged to attend these events. However, Guevara reminds students that while attending Unidad events gains exposure, it does not lead to total understanding of the Latinx culture.
“It’s not enough just to come to one of our events and be like, ‘Oh wow, I’m a [Latinx] expert.’ I would encourage people to talk to students of color on campus,” Guevara said.
Miranda offers some other methods of becoming more informed about other cultures: “Read diverse literature, listen to different types of music, watch different kinds of TV, ask how you can get involved.” Above all, she asks students to listen. Cultural engagement and racial reconciliation have been principal goals on campus as of late.
The Unidad cabinet emphasized that while this goal is achievable, it is up to the institution to bring about this change by hiring more faculty of color and actively recruiting students with diverse backgrounds.
Organizations such as Unidad, Koinonia and the William Osborne Society are there to support minority students.
“We are tasked with building community and making our students feel safe and cared for. We focus on that more than making a cultural impact on Wheaton,” Miranda explained.
Hernandez points out that collaboration is a key way that Unidad and other organizations can bring about cultural engagement and unity.
“When you work together, you have to listen to each other and to different opinions,” said Hernandez. Successful collaboration requires all parties to consider the needs of those they are working with.
Unidad is currently exemplifying this by working with the Chaplain’s Office to lead chapel services.
In the meantime, Unidad will continue hosting events aimed at providing a welcoming community for Latinx students.
More information about these events can be found in Lower Beamer on the Unidad board near Sam’s.