Despite graduating from UF last Summer, Richard Lainez is spending his summer fighting on behalf of the students who call the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures home.
During the majority of his time as an undergraduate, Lainez was an ambassador at the Institute of Hispanic-Latino Cultures, known to most as La Casita. He said as a non-white student, it was very hard to find a “home” at UF — but La Casita was the one place that gave him comfort.
“I felt like I was with family,” the 23-year-old said.
In April 2016, it was announced that La Casita and the Institute of Black Culture, respectively located at 1504 and 1510 W. University Ave., would be torn down and rebuilt due to a presence of mold, termites, moisture and structural damage. Originally, construction was set to begin in January and finish in Fall, according to Alligator archives.
This week, as a way to express outrage over a renovation plan proposed by UF’s Multicultural and Diversity Affairs staff, #NoLaIBCita has circulated on social media from members of La Casita and the IBC. An anonymously created Facebook page, entitled “No La IBCita,” was created July 4.
In recent months, MCDA staff members presented La Casita and IBC students with an option to combine the two buildings into a “U” shape. Former and current UF students such as Lainez fear this option will merge cultures as opposed to honoring the two separate races.
“Even though we might have a similar story or history, it is not the same story,” Lainez said.
Even though La Casita welcomes students of all ethnicities, and not just Latinx, it is specifically representative of Hispanic and Latino cultures. It should not be combined with the IBC, Lainez said.
On June 28, MCDA hosted a meeting to discuss the possible “U” shaped renovation. Some students, including UF microbiology and cell science senior Christopher Wilde, became enraged.
Wilde, a student member on a renovation advisory committee, was one student to speak out against MCDA at the meeting last month. The 21-year-old said MCDA staff has consistently overlooked students’ concerns and have not been transparent during the process.
The advisory committee, which is comprised of faculty, alumni and students, is supposed to provide insights and opinions to MCDA staff before they make final decisions about the renovation. However, Wilde said their opinions and concerns have been repeatedly shot down during meetings.
In fact, the advisory committee was unaware of the webinar agenda, and Wilde said they were shocked to see that their concerns were not presented to the crowd.
Wilde said students involved with the #NoLaIBCita movement will host a “teach-in” Tuesday night in Turlington Hall, Room 2319, at 7 p.m. The event’s purpose is to inform others about La Casita and the IBC’s respective histories, with an open-dialogue Q&A at the end.
On Wednesday afternoon — at the same time the advisory committee will meet with MCDA staff to discuss renovations one final time before a decision is made — students will march from Turlington Plaza to the Reitz Union to raise awareness of #NoLaIBCita.
Will Atkins, executive director of MCDA, declined to speak until after the advisory committee meeting Wednesday.
MCDA staff and the core committee are expected to make a decision about the design by July 19.
Although Wilde said there is an overwhelming majority of students who favor the two separate buildings, he believes MCDA staff and the core committee will still choose the “U” shaped building.
“People have been watching this with a critical lens, and they can see what’s happening,” Wilde said. “Hopefully, administration will have no room to get around that.”
No matter what MCDA decides to do, Wilde said he’s happy to see solidarity between the Latinx and black community as they continue to fight toward their goal.
“We recognize that we’re stronger together,” he said. “We both deserve independent houses.”