As more Latinx students fill leadership positions on campus, nowhere is their rise more striking than how they are reshaping the Student Government Association. The first all-Latinx executive board ever elected oversees a $1.7 million budget and more than 60 student
organizations – and is being mentored by alumni who were once on the SGA themselves.
Not only do they share a Latin American heritage but they are also on track to be the first in their families to graduate. “We noticed during our first interaction that, wow, this is historical,” says Executive President Ashon Lanada, a senior majoring in Business Administration.
They also share a sense of purpose to make a positive impact as the campus readjusts to the COVID-19 pandemic. “There’s so much newness in this year,” Lanada says. “We call it ‘The Revival.’ This is our theme, this is our mantra because we are coming to not just put SGA on a map, but to put student life back into its place.”
Montclair State is the largest Hispanic-Serving Institution in New Jersey – 30% of this year’s freshman class identify as Hispanic – and the University has created an environment where Latinx students feel they belong, thrive and can succeed, says Associate Provost for
Hispanic Initiatives and International Programs Katia Paz Goldfarb.
The SGA executive board members say they have been given the training, support and resources – including being mentored by alumni – to be well prepared to shape campus life, and ultimately the world, in ways that matter.
Among the former SGA leaders mentoring the group is George Juzdan ’14, ’21 MBA, manager of corporate accounting at Eisai US, a Japanese pharmaceutical company. They talk regularly.
“It’s been a good experience for me to be able to mentor the students and provide lessons. You don’t really get to see the full picture while going through college or what the results were and what the impact is until after you finished your term,” Juzdan says. “Having that insight and providing it to them has been helpful, I think, in their decision-making.”
Family members and other role models have greatly influenced these student leaders, and Executive Vice President Karla Farfan Miguel, a senior majoring in Justice Studies, says she grew up quickly as the daughter of immigrants from Peru and Mexico.
“I translated every document for my parents. I ordered food. I made phone calls for doctors who didn’t understand Spanish. That brought me up with initiative,” Miguel says. “My parents work incredibly hard, cleaning houses, working in warehouses, cleaning schools after hours. I grew up watching that and understanding that education was my only way out of this lifestyle.
“Both Guillermo Estrada, executive treasurer and a Public Health senior, and Christie Rosales, executive secretary and a senior studying Psychology, say coaches and mentors have been especially important. Estrada, who grew up without a father, says “I think that overcoming that type of adversity is what made me who I am today.”
Rosales credits her sister with helping raise her while her parents worked. “She was the one who took on the heavy burdens. She’s been my inspiration.”
What the executive board is accomplishing together is connecting them to the future, says Miguel. “All of us want to go into our respective fields to create change – change that’s going to last, change that’s going to help our communities reach another level and to be visible.”
–Marilyn Joyce Lehren
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