Rony Castellanos photographed by Guadalupe Contreras.
By Yeymy Garcia, Senior Editor
Rony Eduardo Castellanos Raymundo knows all too well how much support can mean for college students. As a first-generation student who migrated from Guatemala at the age of 15 in 2007, it wasn’t until his third college experience that he finally found a sense of community. And he’s trying to infuse that spirit at CSUDH.
“It is my hope to continue to build the amazing community that students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members have developed with much love and care,” Castellanos said.
Last semester, The Bulletin covered the development of the affinity center for Latinx students organized by the student-led group, El Comité, to address the lack of representation for Hispanic/Latinx students. Last March, El Comité met with Vice President of Student Affairs, William Franklin, and they received approval for the center.
The first CSUDH affinity center, The Rose Black Resource Center, was established almost four years ago. Since then, the Queer Culture Resource Center was launched and the Latinx Cultural Resource Center is the latest to join to serve more than 60% of Latinx students. An Asian, Pacific Islander, and South Asian center is currently in the works.
Due to delays caused by COVID-19, Castellanos was hired in November.
Castellanos grew up in the South LA community, where he saw a need for Latinx affinity centers in higher education. He was a first-generation student and began his college journey at California State University, Northridge. But because he didn’t find support for undocumented students and his father was paying for his tuition out of pocket, he had to reverse transfer to West Los Angeles College where he earned an associate of arts degree in psychology.
At the time, he said he was too focused on his studies and going to work full-time that he felt like he didn’t have enough time to engage in after-school activities. However, he remembers seeking out the undocumented student group now known as the Dream Resource Center, where he first began to see the importance of community.
It wasn’t until he transferred to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and LGBTQ studies, that he was hit with a sense of belonging by the Chicanx/Latinx Cultural Resource Center & El Centro.
“I was shocked to see how amazing it is to have a center that is dedicated to support students holistically, culturally, and the amazing community they built across with other affinity centers,” Castellanos said. “Resource centers are a key in building community and a sense of belonging for students.”
He went on and got his master’s of education degree in student affairs at UCLA. Through his own college journey, Castellanos realized how valuable having a place for students with similar experiences to have mentors and a community.
“When I was in college, I was a transfer student, a non-traditional student, and undocumented,” Castellanos said. “It is because of all the community that supported me that I have the ability to lead the center.”
The importance of community is shown by the collaborative effort by El Comité, Student Affairs, the Chicano studies department, and more.
One of the main topics of discussion is the name of the center, and how it should be one that promotes inclusivity to all Central American, South American, and Caribbean and African diaspora cultures.
Castellanos said they are “working on pushing the boundaries with the term “Latinx” to create awareness that Afro-Latinx, Afro-Indigenous, and members of the African Diaspora exist, and are present in CSUDH, even as they have been historically erased from being ‘Latinx.’”
With virtual learning still in place, the LCRC still doesn’t have a permanent physical home on campus, but Castellanos and his team wanted to provide assistance to CSUDH students as soon as possible by having Zoom meetings and events concentrating on self-wellness, campus resources, and social justice.
Janneth Najera, a representative of El Comité, just started her job as a student assistant at the LCRC.
“Working with Rony has been amazing,” Najera said. “He has such an amazing heart and a creative mind. His ideas on programming really centers our (the students) whole well being. He has hit the ground running and I am so excited to see where we end up.”
While Rony is the LCRC’s temporary director, his goal is to remain at CSUDH.
“My hope is that we will be able to start the center virtually in some capacity and then engage in moving that community to the physical campus and surrounding communities,” Castellanos said. “I want students to know that I am here to support their CSUDH college journey in any capacity. This is a community effort and together, we can find the answers, resources, and support their dreams and aspirations.”