Casa enlightens students

Participants said the program introduces cultures they might not have experienced.

Elizabeth Giorgi

The living and learning community Casa Sol is providing its residents with an expanded look at the Chicano culture.

The 2005-2006 school year is the first in which Casa Sol has been available to residence hall students. Students taking part in the program live in Sanford Hall and attend Chicano studies classes together.

The community allows students to experience living with other people of a similar heritage and learn many aspects of the Chicano culture, in and out of the classroom.

First-year animal science student Regina Lopez said her high school did not have many Latino students.

“We all have really different backgrounds (in Casa Sol) and we are all unique people,” she said.

It is part of the learning experience to be around people who are similar but all different, she said.

The group shares a Chicano studies class on Monday nights, and the students participate in weekly activities together, such as bowling and making meals.

The director of the group, Louis Mendoza, teaches the Chicano studies class and helped to develop the program.

Casa Sol is an acronym for community activism, student achievement and student opportunities for leadership, he said.

“We want this to be a leadership experience,” Mendoza said.

Research shows students who reside in living and learning communities generally adjust to college life better, he said, and as a result, do well in college.

Mendoza said the students are able to create bonds and the adjustment to college life generally is easier for them. Helping create support for these students was important to him, he said.

“Chicano studies supports this culture house and it is designed to support students who are interested in the Chicano and Latino studies,” he said.

Because this is a new program, first-year art and languages student Ivonne Montano said it allows them to be part of the development process.

“We are the guinea pigs because this is the first time they are doing this,” she said. “We can help to make it better.”

Residents of the community said living in Casa Sol makes them feel at home at a large school.

First-year student Luis Ortega-Castrellon said he likes living with people who share his culture.

Ortega-Castrellon said the community gives him more exposure to the small amount of nonwhite people he sees on campus.

First-year student Gabe Garcia-Boler said Casa Sol has provided him with a smaller community in a large University setting.

“It is easier to feel like you have a place when we all share something,” he said.

Biochemistry junior Carolyn Andrews is the community adviser on the sixth floor of Sanford Hall.

Andrews, who lives with the female half of the Casa Sol community on her floor, said she enjoys the diversity the students bring to the floor.

“There are stereotypes about who would be in Casa Sol and we would like to bring those stereotypes to light,” she said. “We want to educate the entire floor and the University.”

First-year architecture student Jose Alberto Salgado-Gaxiola said the community has been enjoyable because of the variety of students who live there.

“I wanted to live here so I could be active in the Latino community,” he said. “There are so many diverse people that make it fun.”

Students living in Casa Sol said it helps them to be more involved in their culture and to establish a family-type setting.

First-year student Alejandro Diaz said Casa Sol makes him feel like a part of a community.

“I feel like living in the Casa Sol helps us to keep our culture intact,” he said.