SHPE Launches Inaugural Latinx Graduation

As this academic year draws to a close, RIT welcomes a new tradition to its vibrant list of cultural celebrations: Latinx Graduation. Shepherded by RIT’s Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) chapter, this inaugural event represents a student-led effort to celebrate Latinx achievement and amplify the voices of Latinx students and their allies at RIT.

Latinx graduation marks a continuation in a recent, but growing, movement of RIT student organizations acknowledging the positive impact of underrepresented communities on the student body. Recent years have seen the emergence of events such as Black Graduation and Rainbow Graduation, which developed to celebrate the graduations of historically marginalized segments of the RIT student population. 

However, up until now, a similar event did not exist for RIT’s Latinx population, who comprise 9% of the undergraduate student population according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Recognizing this shortcoming, Nayely Gonzales, a fourth year mechanical engineering technology major and academic director of SHPE, expressed frustration about the lack of an event to celebrate the academic achievements of the Latinx community at RIT. 

“It was upsetting to me that it wasn’t there from the start,” stated Gonzales.

Gonzales took steps to address this issue by suggesting the idea for Latinx graduation at a SHPE e-board meeting, where the idea was welcomed as a long-overdue initiative. SHPE, as RIT’s leading club for promoting Hispanic advancement and empowerment in STEM, proved to be an ideal candidate in promoting the event.

With the e-board's support behind the measure, the next step involved various stages of planning: fundraising, selecting a suitable venue, and sharing information with the rest of the club and the broader student body. Fortunately, with an influx of support from their constituents, SHPE was able to effectively navigate this crucial step.

“From there, [the support] blossomed, we got so many supporters and lots of good fundraising. We got over $600 in one week from cultural snacks, bracelet-making, stickers and things like that,” explained Gonzales.

An important objective of the ceremony was finding ways to incorporate Latinx culture. To achieve this goal, SHPE enlisted the help of culturally-oriented creative groups on campus such as Alma de Mexico and Latin Rhythm dance club, who will be holding performances. 

Furthermore, SHPE proactively considered the linguistic diversity within Hispanic communities, making the event trilingual in English, Spanish and ASL.

For participating seniors (Latinx students and affiliated allies), expect a spirited celebration in your honor.

“When the ceremony is ending, we're gonna have them lined up. And then we'll have everyone lined up in an aisle and we'll have pom-poms, kettlebells, like a Spirit Day type vibe. Because it's their day and we want to make sure that they feel proud of themselves,” outlined Gonzales.

"It's their day and we want to make sure that they feel proud of themselves.”

As for what this experience means as a graduating Hispanic student, Carola Vasquez, a second-year masters student in Mechanical Engineering and the President of SHPE, conveyed how it creates a sense of belonging and validation for her and other Latinx students.

“It feels really great. It’s a sense that I do belong here. It's really nice to have a space where everyone sees the work I put up through the years, not just as an engineer, but also as a leader in my school,” conveyed Vasquez.

"It’s a sense that I do belong here. It's really nice to have a space where everyone sees the work I put up through the years."

While SHPE celebrates the significance of an event like Latinx graduation, they also recognize the stress of managing a post-graduation transition. To address this, they highlight networking opportunities afforded to participating members. By promoting events with like-minded AALANA groups on campus and the national SHPE conference, Vasquez hopes to open paths for other Latinx students.

“It’s pretty much a lifetime membership that you obtain, once you join SHPE. I don't mean by paying status, but the opportunities you get even after graduation,” explained Vasquez.

Going forward, SHPE and Latinx graduation demonstrate significant potential for growth and sustained participation. Held at the Sklarsky Glass Box Theater on May 5, this promises to be the first of many wonderful events affirming Latinx achievement at RIT.