More Latinx students are filling leadership positions on the Montclair State campus, but nowhere is their rise more striking than in the way 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.
The student leaders not only share a Latin American heritage but are also on track to be the first in their families to graduate from college. “We noticed during our first interaction that, wow, this is historical,” says the Executive President Ashon Lanada. “But it’s not only because of us being the first Latinx or first-generation, there are many factors that come into play.”
Those factors include a shared 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 is creating an environment where Latinx students feel they belong, where they succeed and where they thrive, said Associate Provost for Hispanic Initiatives and International Programs Katia Paz Goldfarb during a ceremony marking the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month,
That’s been the common experience of the Latinx students serving in student government. They say they have been given the training, support and resources – including being mentored by alumni – to be well prepared to go out and meet, reach and shape campus life, and ultimately the world, in ways that matter.
“We’ve seen oppression in the face and we’ve been able to overcome it,” says Karla Farfan Miguel, the executive vice president. “So to that extent, of course we always want to help give back to our community. But the framework that we’re getting through the Student Government Association has amplified that ‘wants to give back’ because we were actually given the tools to do it. That’s a privilege that we all are aware that we have. It’s a privilege to serve as an elected official, but especially in this capacity at such a young age.”
Family has greatly influenced each of the student leaders, and Miguel, a senior majoring in Justice Studies with a concentration in Paralegal Studies and a minor in Spanish, says she grew up quickly as the daughter of immigrants from Peru and Mexico.
“My first language was Spanish, and I was translating every document for my parents. I was ordering food. I was making phone calls for doctors who didn’t understand Spanish. That brought me up with initiative,” she 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.”
The influence of role models have been significant for both Guillermo Estrada, the executive treasurer, and Christie Rosales, executive secretary. Estrada, a senior studying Public Health with a concentration in Health Systems Administration and Policy, says sports coaches and mentors have been especially important. “One of the biggest things for me was growing up without a father,” he says. “I think that overcoming that type of adversity is what made me who I am today.”
Rosales, a senior studying Psychology with two minors in Child Advocacy and Policy, and Social Work, credits her sister with helping raise her while her parents worked. “She was the one making me a sandwich. She was the one helping me with my homework. She was the one who took on the heavy burdens. She’s been my inspiration.”
Lanada, a senior majoring in Business Administration with a concentration in Management, is thankful for his grandfather for instilling in him a sense of discipline. “He is why I am in this level of authority and why I am in this position where I can be a voice, because that’s what he taught me, how to be a voice.”
The work the four student leaders are accomplishing together has connected them in discovering “new paths, new parts of what we want in the future,” says Miguel. “All of us want to go into our respective fields and want to create change, change that’s going to last, change that’s going to help our communities reach another level and to be visible.”
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