Student Welcomes help students build connections and communities

Abigail Duchow, Scene Editor

The student welcome events at CWU are organized to bring groups of students together. There are several student welcomes: an LGBTQ+ Student Welcome, Black Student Welcome, Latinx Student Welcome and Native American and Indigenous Peoples welcome.

Abby Chien, the director of the Diversity and Equity Center (DEC), is involved with the student welcomes. She said the student welcomes are a good way to connect students who share similar identities and experiences with each other. 

“I never assume that just because a student identifies in a certain way that’s where their community will be, but often we know students are looking for folks with shared identity and shared experiences.” Chien said. 

Chien said all the welcomes are different, but generally begin with a formal introduction. Usually, the person giving the introduction will be someone who identifies as part of the community and is involved and connected with the community on campus.

“The welcomes are planned by folks who care deeply about those communities and identities that they’re representing, so it is a place to find connection and develop a sense of connection to our campus community,” Chien said.

After the formal welcome, there is usually an opportunity to meet other students and staff through activities and icebreakers. Chien said some welcomes may also provide information about other upcoming programs and more ways to stay connected.

Chien said most of the student welcomes this year will be held virtually, with the exception of the Black Student Welcome, which will be held in person. She said the Latinx welcome will likely be held virtually, but it hasn’t been determined yet, as it won’t be held until October.

“I really encourage folks to attend. Even the virtual ones will have opportunities to connect with each other and build those relationships,” Chien said.

Katrina Whitney, the assistant director for the DEC, thinks one of the things the DEC prides themselves on is that they try to create a sense of community and belonging for students, and the student welcomes are one of the ways they do so.

“Because we’re student-focused, we have a strong desire to create these avenues for students to connect and build community,” Whitney said. “We create these welcomes as a pathway to build community for first-year students.”

Whitney said the student welcomes can be particularly impactful when it comes to students coming to CWU from a different state or a different part of Washington.

“We’re all unique individuals, right? We all bring our own lived experience to our college experience,” Whitney said. “I think there’s something really wonderful about connecting with someone and they understand your story.”

Ruben Cardenas, the director of the Veteran’s Center, is involved with the Latinx Student Welcome. He said the welcome will give students the opportunity to connect with a community they identify with and meet peers and professional staff who are part of the community. He also said the welcome provides an opportunity for faculty and staff to reaffirm to students that they belong there and that the faculty and staff believe in the students.

Cardenas said he believes providing the affirmation of students’ belonging and capabilities is really important, and this event allows students to come out of their shells and even be inspired by speakers at the event. He said people students connect with at the student welcome could potentially become their “support group” for when they’re going through hard times, or even to celebrate milestones through their college career. 

“I think back to the start of my undergrad year at [Eastern Washington University] and wish we could have had an event like this. I believe community and family is really important and foundational for success. Events like this provide opportunities for students to find their community.” Cardenas said.

Miriam Bocchetti is the director of the College Assistance Migrant Program, and is also part of the Latinx student welcome. She said the Latinx Student Welcome is designed to “engage and celebrate” the Latinx community at CWU. She said there are Latinx people all across campus, and the event provides an opportunity for Latinx professionals and students to interact and establish meaningful connections. 

“Being in a room full of people with commonalities and shared experiences is empowering and inspiring and can lead to advanced opportunities and engagements.” Bocchetti said, “It is critical to acknowledge and honor our fastest growing population of students, not just at Central but across our state and country.”

Verónica Gómez-Vilchis is a diversity advocate and outreach specialist for the Office of Inclusivity and Diversity. She is also involved in the Latinx Student Welcome. She said the event is important because representation matters. 

She said Latinx students are able to see people who look like them with various levels of degrees, whether it be someone with a bachelor’s degree or someone with a Ph.D. who could potentially mentor and inspire students. She said this event also allows her to stay connected to students.

“In my new role I am not able to serve students directly. The Latinx Welcome provides me the space to engage with Latinx students in a meaningful way,” Gómez-Vilchis said. “The Latinx Alumni Association, the Diversity Equity Center, the Equity Services Council and partnerships from across campus understand and know how crucial it is for students to form a community in the beginning of their academic year to feel that they belong here.”