By Mattison Hansen
Stranded in a foreign location, surrounded by strangers and not knowing what to do, is a nightmare numerous individuals hope never happens to them. This nightmare becomes reality when a student decides to move away from home and create a goal to get a degree from a college or university.
At Flagler College, 5.17% of the students who attend come from abroad, like Germany, Brazil, or Guatemala, 45.95% come from out-of-state, and the remaining percentage are from Florida, some a little closer to home than others. Wherever students are from, they all have the desire to belong.
Sebastian Madrid is from Miami, and at the beginning of his second year at Flagler College he has made it his mission to help create a group for students through the formation of the LatinX Club.
“The purpose of the club is to have a support group for people from the LatinX community,” Madrid said. “Not only are people from the LatinX community involved, but other people interested in our heritage and wanting to learn more about who we are.”
Throughout its 53 years as a school, Flagler College has seen an evolution amongst their students. Beginning as an all-girls school until 1971, to accepting a more diverse student body, Flagler’s based its values on transformative learning, citizenship and integrity, thoughtful stewardship, as well as fostering a sense of a respectful and inclusive community.
“I think [the LatinX Club] really is building a foundation of support,” Mary Rose Pedron, the assistant director for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, said.
Pedron has been with Flagler College since October 2020, and during her time with the school she has noticed the beginning of change in the diverse culture on campus. She has also been the primary supporter of the LatinX Club.
“The goal of infinity groups is to create support spaces and a sense of belonging for students, specifically ones with marginalized diversities. I’ve seen just alone from the LatinX Club, a lot of students who are able to find peers who have the same experience as them, and find a sense of belonging. It’s a space to share their culture.” Pedron said.
Someone who has also noticed a notable change at Flagler is Melissa Garcia, a student at Flagler College since 2017 and the current vice president for the LatinX Club.
“During my freshman year, there weren’t a lot of diversity groups,” Garcia relayed on what she’s noticed throughout her time on campus. “This year there’s a lot more diversity.” Garcia also mentioned how this year’s larger incoming class might be one of the factors to the increase in contrast of Flagler’s student body.
The LatinX Club has gotten a large amount of support from numerous organizations on campus. Some of which included the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Office of Student Affairs, and the Student Government Association. However, with all of this support, it’s a wonder as to why the LatinX Club didn’t exist before.
“Establishing any club has a rocky start. Before Sebastian, two other students tried starting up the LatinX organization. The reason it didn’t follow through was because no one would follow through.” Pedron said. “This group was really strong in their goals.”
If a club does not currently exist at Flagler College, it is possible for any student to create one and find others who share a common interest. The approval for a new club comes from the Student Government Association, the Vice President of Student Affairs, and the College administration via the President’s Cabinet. Students must request approval to form their new club by submitting a petition to the Director of Student Activities, and the petition must include a proposed constitution, a statement of purpose, list of projected activities, proposed budget, names and signatures, names of provisional officers, and the name of the faculty or staff advisor.
“The biggest struggle was getting the signatures for the club,” Madrid said. “The whole club constitution part was another, such as figuring out a budget and reviewing e-board positions.”
Pedron further goes on to explain that clubs should be student led. While herself and others might like to see certain organizations on campus, such as an Asian Pacific Islander club, it is up to Flagler’s students to create and lead.
For students who want to discover a place to belong, members of the LatinX Club recommend joining a club where there are individuals with similar backgrounds and interests – or creating one themselves. They also suggest students get out of their comfort zone and discover something new, or find someone to discover with.
“Find at least one person. Because having that one person will help you not miss home. Not only joining clubs, but also going to events and getting involved with the St. Augustine community,” Kandy Marroquin, the secretary of the LatinX Club, said.
During the Fall of 2022, Pedron hopes to instill a peer leadership program to give students a support system as soon as they come to college.
In comparison to its past, Flagler College has made another step in diversifying its student body by adding the LatinX Club to campus. While the school is showing progress in growing and changing, it is also up to the college’s students to help in Flagler’s transformation to become a more inclusive environment where everyone feels like they belong.