Friday, April 8, 2011

It is a very special delight and honor for me to join you today in celebrating this important moment. Today, we are renewing and reaffirming our commitment to this important center and to the students for whom it is their campus cultural home. For forty years now, the Latino Native American Cultural Center has contributed to the vibrancy of student life, education, and service at The University of Iowa. This has been a center for social advocacy and activism, cultural enrichment and education, and student support since 1971. We are proud to rededicate ourselves to its continued role in the vibrancy of life at the University for decades more to come.

The heart of the University is intellectual diversity—the free exploration of ideas that leads us to learning and discovery. Intellectual and social diversity go hand in hand. The most effective University community is filled with faculty, staff, and students from many backgrounds and experiences. That is why places like the Latino Native American Cultural Center remain so important to our mission. It helps bring the diversity of our society to the campus, and it helps create an environment in which our Latino, Latina, and Native American community members can thrive.

We know from experience that thriving within a large community like the University can be a challenge. For many of our minority students—and faculty and staff—cultural differences can present an additional challenge. We must bring diversity into our University community, but even more importantly, we need to keep it here. And the best way to do that is to reach out to all of our community members on smaller levels—reach out to them as members of affiliated groups and as individuals.

The Center is therefore crucial in our work to support our Latino, Latina, and Native American community members. It provides a place where students can connect with each other, a place where students’ heritage is affirmed, and a place where students can find their power to succeed. Unfortunately, minorities have experienced disempowerment over the course of history in our country. But as Ojibway writer and activist Winona LaDuke has said, “Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul.” The Latino Native American Cultural Center has been a place where our students have gone to find the power in their soul—their voice, their personal connections with their larger culture, and the realization of the possibilities within themselves that higher education provides.

Latina writer Sandra Cisneros once said, “I have to understand what my strengths and limitations are, and work from a true place.” Like Ms. LaDuke, I know that Ms. Cisneros was talking about a place within herself, but the idea also holds true for a material place like this center. The Latino and Native American Cultural Center provides a “true place” from which our students can overcome their limitations, whether imposed by self or society, and even more importantly to affirm their strengths.

You, our Latino, Latina, and Native American students, are supported and empowered here. But in turn you also give to the larger institution the understanding of people and cultures who have long histories on this continent and in this state, and whose contributions to society only grow more important and prominent. The entire community appreciates that very much, and today’s celebration is also about thanking you for your contributions to The University of Iowa.

Congratulations to all involved with the Center on four decades of success. I am honored to be with you today to express my personal appreciation for all you do to make The University of Iowa strong in its diversity.