This article is part of a three-part series detailing the experiences of students in identity-based living units on campus: The House of Black Culture (HBC), The Latin American Cultures and Student Anecdotes (LA CASA) House, and The Sexuality and Gender Equality House (SAGE). Residents share the importance of these houses for their OWU experience and the campus community at large.
In fall 2019, Ohio Wesleyan opened its first residence specifically aimed at supporting students of Latin-American descent. The mission of the new housing option is to unite students from various Latinx backgrounds to “promote inclusivity within the OWU community” and be a welcoming source for students “identifying as Latin, as well as any other student excited to learn, embrace, and promote” these cultures. LA CASA, which stands for Latin American Culture and Student Anecdotes, is located in the Jim and Eilleen Dicke House. This residence is a part of Ohio Wesleyan’s small living units for which new buildings, “slu-plexes” in OWU lingo, were constructed on Rowland Avenue in 2016.
Isabelle Rodriguez ‘21, moderator of the house and one of the early advocates for its addition to campus, has been living in the house for two years. She wanted an opportunity to live with people of a similar background. “Over the years, I have learned how important it is to stay grounded in who you are.
Coming to Ohio, it is very easy to try and assimilate into a culture that is not yours, and quickly begin to feel like an outsider or even an imposter,” Isabelle explained. “I did not want that experience, therefore I chose LA CASA to be my home.”
Joy Buraima, a junior from the Ivory Coast, has been living in LA CASA for a year. Joy was drawn to LA CASA in a desire to “merge my love for culture and the Spanish language” and wanted to be “part of the effort to share Latin American culture on campus.”
Sophomore student Adrian Moran ‘21 has been a resident since Fall 2020. Even though he applied to live in various SLUs, he felt “most accepted and comfortable” in LA CASA. “During pre-COVID times, LA CASA was no stranger to outsiders, particularly people of Latin descent,” Adrian said. His sense of comfort stems from the fact that the house is centered around the Latinx community. “I feel a lot safer knowing my housemates are all tolerant toward or part of Latin culture.”
Isabelle and Joy look back particularly fondly at the cookout in Fall 2019, a collaboration with student organization VIVA Latinx that marked LA CASA’s official introduction to Ohio Wesleyan for its residents. “As our first official event, it was a very special moment for us as a house. It was a wonderful experience opening up and sharing our home with the campus community,” Joy said. “We had tons of food and the house was packed with guests. It was great hosting so many people in the house who were happy to share in our culture,” Isabella added.
Since joining the SLU, all three residents have found a home in LA CASA. Like Adrian, Isabelle has appreciated sharing a space with peers from a similar background. “The experience has been drastically different than living in a residential building because I am in a place where I feel I truly belong. The people who surround me daily are kind people who care about my culture,” Isabelle said. The close-knit lifestyle within the SLUs helps to further develop these bonds. “I feel like I’m part of a community. When I lived in Welch Hall, I only knew my roommates. Our RAs tried to bring the floor together but it did not work as efficiently as Isabelle calling a house meeting,” Adrian shared. “I feel closer to a larger group of people than I did in a residential hall.” His favorite memories of living in the house include the game nights and trips to Alum Creek when the students bond over activities like Jackbox and volleyball.
Having a house on campus centered around Latin culture is essential as “Latinx and Hispanic students need a place on campus that is safe, where they can be themselves, and be surrounded with students of a similar background working to succeed in life,” Isabelle said. After arriving in Delaware, the designated safe space for people of Latin descent reminded Adrian of home.
“Ohio is nice, but it was such a culture shock coming from southern California where there is no shortage of Latin people or culture. I felt deprived of my roots and culture before living in LA CASA, but now I get to be with people who remind me that I am safe and part of a community here in OWU,” the sophomore said. “My freshman year I never would have thought that I’d feel this comfortable living in Ohio.” Adrian Moran, '21
Representation plays an integral role for students of historically marginalized communities, as it allows them to find motivation in peers they identify with. “On campus, the majority of students look white and it’s easy to get caught up in feeling like you are less than because they are completing exciting research or winning state championships,” Isabelle said. Witnessing successes and being surrounded by students of a similar background to her own, she added, is an additional encouragement to “try hard every day.”
Being a moderator has awarded Isabelle with a new sense of responsibility, who also sees herself as a leader within the small Latinx community on campus. “I have learned that there is nobody else who will advocate for us, other than us.” While Isabelle adds that “the struggle is worth it, even if it only makes one student’s experience better,” the house has specifically struggled in gaining visibility and interest from the wider campus community.
Residents note that Ohio Wesleyan could provide more support to LA CASA, and the Latinx community on campus at large, as part of its mission is to promote Latin-American culture across campus. “It would be great if Ohio Wesleyan could make more efforts to be present at house project events that are advertised around campus, I think this would make the Latinx and Hispanic students feel that OWU cares about them and their culture,” Isabelle said. Adrian stated that there is a need for a “safer and more inclusive environment on campus for Latinx people and people of color.”