“When underrepresented students don’t feel safe in our community space, who is it for?” read one student’s sign, as they stood in a crowd of over one hundred Latine students carrying posters with similar messages during an “impromptu” demonstration at El Centro Chicano y Latino on Friday.
The demonstration was led by ComuniLove NOW! Collective, which is self-described as “a student collective” representing the “diversity of the Latine diaspora,” that demands change from El Centro, a community center the students of the Collective say does “not protect [them], respect [them], nor hear [them].”
Their efforts came after a planned community town hall at the center was pushed back several months and ultimately postponed to next academic year. The community town hall was originally planned due to multiple reported incidents of discrimination in Casa Zapata — the ethnic theme dorm “focusing on the Chicanx and Latinx experience” — during winter and fall quarters.
“Campus leaders understand that students, including some of the student staff of El Centro and Casa Zapata, have feedback for improvement,” University public relations director Bridget Ballesteros wrote in an email to The Daily on behalf of the University and El Centro. “In the next week, they will be meeting with students from these groups, and members of CommuniLove, with the goal of moving forward as a community.”
In an email sent to Casa Zapata residents in February, the reported incidents included a guest speaker at Casa Zapata who said “F*ck Mexicans” and joked that people should be “in the back” or “go first” based on their ethnicity while standing in line for food. The email also stated that other guest speakers had spread anti-Black and anti-Indigenous rhetoric as well as “behaviors that continue to perpetuate imperialism, xenophobia, and nationalism.”
Guest speakers are chosen by the Ethnic Theme Associate team at Casa Zapata.
The Collective said in a statement to The Daily that the town hall was canceled and rescheduled twice after being announced in February, “with each instance coming at a turbulent time when tensions continued to escalate in our community.”
The originally planned town hall was intended as a place for students to speak about these concerns that the Collective said the center has been failing to address, including the firing of certain student staff workers from El Centro and Zapata. According to the Collective, El Centro fired workers “for using ‘divisive and destructive’ language in their social media critiques of the center.”
Another complaint against El Centro from the Collective is that current student staff employees “who have been openly racist, xenophobic, anti-semitic, and homophobic continue to be protected by El Centro’s Professional Staff.”
El Centro did not directly respond to The Daily’s question about this allegation.
El Centro member Josh Alvarez ’26 attended the demonstration on Friday, which he described as “empowering,” adding that he thought ComuniLove members “are very open to discussion and understanding students’ concerns,” calling it “really a community-led effort.”
Alvarez said that there has been a recent increase in motivation in the past few years to build a more representative community center, which has led to “a lot of conversations, some of it also conflict, over how to do so appropriately and… effectively.”
One frosh member of the Collective, who chose to remain anonymous to protect their membership status in El Centro, said that during their Admit Weekend, they had been “super excited” to learn about El Centro and looked forward to having a community for other Latine people on campus. However, “disappointing is the best description” they said they could think of for their experience with El Centro so far.
“I’m South American and there was not a single South American event ever hosted by El Centro in the past two years — and, I believe, in the history of El Centro — as well as no Black Latine events,” they said. “And I believe the only Indigenous events that have been sponsored by El Centro were co-hosted by the Indigenous association on campus.”
El Centro did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment regarding the student’s allegation. The Daily was not able to independently verify the frosh’s claim.
Since the demonstration, the Collective has “grown in numbers, testimonies, and support beyond just undergraduate and graduate students,” their statement wrote. “We have initiated community conversations on demands originally presented at Friday’s demonstration.”
The Collective’s Demands
On Wednesday, the Collective posted a list of demands to its Instagram account, including requests to invest and increase in “more diverse cultural events in partnership with underrepresented communities,” to establish a clear “line of communication between El Centro and Zapata staff” and to begin a community-led process “for the name change of El Centro Chicano y Latino.”
Originally opened as “El Centro Chicano” in 1978, El Centro’s current name was determined following student surveys conducted in the spring quarters of 2010, 2011 and 2012. According to El Centro’s website, professional staff discussed four alternative names presented by Guiding Concilio members and agreed that “El Centro Chicano y Latino” was the name that “best honors the legacy of the Chicano student movement of the late 1960s and 1970s at Stanford… and also acknowledges and celebrates the diversity in today’s Chicana/o and Latina/o student community.” The Collective wrote in their statement that they want the name to be changed to “be inclusive of student identities.”
The Collective also published an outreach form, encouraging members of the Latine community to share their experiences with El Centro, Casa Zapata and the overall community.
Among their demands, they are urging more transparency with El Centro’s budget and asking the community center to “empower students in taking the reins of what events are created by us and for us.”
They are also demanding a revised hiring process for El Centro that “intentionally increases underrepresented Latine hires” including Black, Indigenous, Asian, queer, gender marginalized and mixed-race Latin students from across Latin America.
Additionally, they are calling for the removal of certain “offensive murals” in El Centro and Casa Zapata as well as the creation of new murals by Black and/or Indigenous Latine students.
The Collective wrote that If El Centro refuses to meet their list of demands “within a reasonable amount of time,” they would further call for “the reevaluation of those with the power to implement these changes for the betterment of our current comunidad.”
Another El Centro member who attended the protest told The Daily under anonymity, to protect their membership status in El Centro, that while they agreed with certain demands made by ComuniLove, “it’s obviously a self-selected group of people that attend those events” and that not all attendees completely agreed with either side.
The Daily reached out to multiple individual members of the Collective, all of whom pointed to their statement in place of giving individual statements.
“I think that it’s a touchy subject,” Alvarez said about the tensions between the Collective and El Centro. “I think that at Stanford, especially if you come from a marginalized identity, we become protective of our identities, and rightfully so. And so when issues like this come up, especially within our own community, it becomes personalized, it becomes heated and everyone has this idea of intents over impact.”
On its Instagram, the Collective also criticized Stanford as a university, calling them directly “responsible for not giving El Centro — or any community center — sufficient funding to expand and support its staff.” Approximately 18%, or around 1,400 of the University’s matriculated undergraduate population of 7,761 in fall 2022 ethnically identified as Hispanic or Latino.
“Fostering communities of inclusion and support are top priorities for the university,” Ballesteros wrote on behalf of the University and El Centro. “At the forefront of this work are Stanford’s Centers for Equity, Community and Leadership. These eight community and cultural centers aim to empower students and help prepare them to navigate a complex world.”
The Collective also called for Stanford to increase “the financial and structural support provided to community spaces dedicated to marginalized students.” On its Instagram, the Collective said that the University was “responsible” for the lack of sufficient funding at El Centro.
“This is not just about El Centro, but the respect, dignity, and justice that all marginalized students deserve on campus,” ComuniLove wrote to The Daily.
Alvarez said that the issue was not that there was an “in” versus “out” group or an “us” versus ‘them.’
“It’s more like all of us,” Alvarez said. “Regardless of where you’re from — Mexico, Central America, South America and all the intersectional identities that come with that — we can all come together in solidarity to fight against the discrimination and lack of representation going on within these spaces.”