Mechanical engineering major Premraj Deoraj ’12 likes to think of his floor in Ramer Hall as a small pond leading into the larger ocean of the campus community. The Heritage of Latin America (H.O.L.A.) special interest floor provides a safe, inclusive place for students to share their ideas and provides the supportive environment to take those viewpoints to other students around campus.
While fun activities open to everyone are a staple of the floor, its members take very seriously its mission to “promote cross-cultural communication, develop leadership skills, and work to educate the campus about the heritage of Latin America and Latinos in the United States.”
“The floor reaches out to the Lafayette community and tries to educate people on diversity issues by simply having an outlet in which members of our floor can discuss the issues that affect them in a comforting and safe space,” explains Deoraj (Woodhaven, N.Y.), who will be the floor’s president next school year. “Once they’re comfortable enough to talk about it with others, their concerns and ideas get filtered into their daily conversations with their friends and the people around them. It’s like a drop of water into a pond that ripples and affects everything around it.”
H.O.L.A. members are happy to discuss all aspects of culture and life in Latin American countries. They stay abreast of current issues in Latin America and help answer common questions like: What’s the difference between Hispanics and Latinos and which countries are part of Latin America? Taisha Jerez ’11, who was president of the floor her junior and senior years, helped educate the campus community and also learned more about herself.
“As a Latino myself, I enjoy teaching others about my culture and about the other Latin American cultures,” says Jerez, who graduated this May with a degree in neuroscience. “It’s a way to become more knowledgeable and, at the same time, teach our members about different cultures and day-to-day life and issues involving their country.”
This past year, H.O.L.A. partnered with other campus groups to help organize the International Students Association’s Extravaganza week, International Get Down at the Spot, a lecture by renowned novelist and poet Julia Alvarez, Spanish Club for Kids, and cooking classes with Hispanic Society of Lafayette. The floor also hosts events in Ramer Hall, such as movie nights, dinners featuring traditional fare from various Latin American countries, talent shows, traditional arts and crafts, and floor decorating with flags and posters.
Geoffrey Ferguson ’12 (Pittsgrove, N.J.), a mechanical engineering major, is not a member of H.O.L.A., but he got a taste of Peru when a friend invited him to a traditional Peruvian dinner. He hopes to attend more H.O.L.A. events next semester.
“It was really enjoyable to try food that I don’t really get the opportunity to have,” he says. “Not only did I enjoy the food, I felt very welcomed by the members of the H.O.L.A. floor. I had a wonderful time.”
A member of H.O.L.A. since his sophomore year, Deoraj says learning about the other members of his floor has been tremendously rewarding, and he’s enthusiastic about sharing more about Latin American cultures with the campus next year.
“It’s given me the opportunity to really bond with the people on my floor and get to know the true people behind the faces,” he says. “The hangouts in the lounge are some of my fondest memories and they’re something I will take with me for years to come. We have driven individuals who have big dreams for the events the floor wants to have as well as making people more aware of the issues that are facing Latin America. There is a lot more to come from us.”