On 25-year anniversary, double Husky recalls efforts to make Latinx home away from home at Northeastern

william rodriguez laughing
A quarter-century ago, William Rodriguez helped turn the Latinx Student Cultural Center into reality. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The celebration of Northeastern’s Latinx Student Cultural Center reminded William Rodriguez of progress made and dreams fulfilled—including his own.

Rodriguez, a double-Husky graduate, arrived at Northeastern in 1982 as a master’s student in the College of Criminal Justice. On Tuesday night, he gave the keynote address marking the 25th anniversary of the cultural center that he helped build.

“The center means a lot to me,” Rodriguez said in an interview before his speech. “Because it’s part of an evolution—a movement—that we started even before the center was created.”

A goal of the Latinx Student Cultural Center was to become a home away from home for students from a variety of backgrounds, Rodriguez said.

“We call it la casita, which means ‘the little home’ in Spanish,” said Jasmine Velazco, a fourth-year journalism student from the San Francisco Bay Area. “It’s truly where I feel most comfortable. 

“When I’m homesick, I go there and I talk to Sara (Rivera), the assistant director, and I tell her my problems,” Velazco said. “Sometimes I miss speaking Spanish and so I go there and speak Spanish. That’s where I’ve met most of my friends here at Northeastern, and I can say pretty confidently that most of the people go to the center because of the community that has been built.”

The center helps develop leadership skills in students in addition to offering professional experiences as well as scholarships for students with financial needs. 

“What the young people wanted was to integrate academics and extracurricular activities and services in one place,” recalled Rodriguez, who also earned a law degree at Northeastern. “And they wanted to call it home. There’s a multitude of ethnicities within our own bloodlines that needed to have that representation and resonate with other groups.”The anniversary celebration was held in the Cabral Center at the John D. O’Bryant African American Institute, which served as the original base for the Latinx center in its early days. During his keynote address, Rodriguez recalled that he was working at Northeastern when he earned the support of former President John A. Curry in establishing the Latinx presence on a campus destined to become cosmopolitan.

“President Curry believed in the underdog,” said Rodriguez, who is now a clinical instructor at Boston University. “It was a retention strategy. It was not just because we wanted to celebrate our culture, but also because we saw [the center] as an instrument to build a pathway that will engage our students.”

The event, held on the heels of Hispanic Heritage Month, featured food, drinks and music for a crowd of more than 75 people. Video links tied in partner celebrations that were being held by Northeastern graduates in New York City and Miami. 

william rodriguez speaking
Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

“When I first came here from New York City—from Fort Apache, the Bronx—I didn’t see people that looked like me,” Rodriguez said, and he recalled “how fearful it was.”

Now, decades later, he was completing a circle. It was during his time at Northeastern that Rodriguez met his wife, Diane Ciarletta, who today is the university’s director for career design. Their two oldest children graduated from Northeastern, and their third is a current student. 

All were with him to help celebrate this culmination of his long-ago vision. Ana Rusch, the outgoing director of the Latinx Student Cultural Center, presented Rodriguez with an award—but not before he offered advice for future generations. 

“Don’t forget your roots,” Rodriguez said.

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