September 14, 2020

SIU’s virtual Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month celebration kicks off Tuesday

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — “Be Proud of Your Past, Embrace Your Future” is the theme of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s 2020 Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month celebration.

Many special events, including guest speakers, piñatas, cooking demonstrations, dancing and more are happening – all virtually – between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15.

“What’s really special about this year is that for the first time it is a system-wide celebration involving SIU Carbondale, SIU Edwardsville and the SIU School of Medicine,” Cristina Castillo, coordinator of SIU Carbondale’s Hispanic/Latino Resource Center, said. “This is historic.”

Live kickoff

The virtual live kick-off begins at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 15, featuring opening remarks by SIU President Daniel F. Mahony.

Carmen Suarez, an assistant professor of practice in SIU Carbondale’s Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education, is the kick-off keynote speaker.

Carmen_Suarez-sm.jpgSuarez has extensive experience in higher education diversity, inclusion, bias prevention, cultural competence, equity and related areas. A Chicago native, she is a triple alumna of SIU Carbondale, earning her bachelor’s degree in history, a master’s degree in medieval history and a doctorate in higher education administration. She previously served at SIU as the affirmative action officer, Hispanic community liaison, assistant dean of the School of Law Career Services Office, interim assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management and director of the Office of Diversity and Equity.

Suarez earned a number of awards at SIU, including the Lindell W. Sturgis Public Service Award in 2006 and the Outstanding Administrative and Professional Staff Award in 2008. She went on to serve as the founding chief diversity officer at the University of Idaho and as the vice president for global diversity and inclusion at Portland State University before returning to her Midwest roots and SIU.  Suarez’s career has focused on equity and inclusion for all groups, sexual harassment prevention, career development, and institutional inclusive excellence and strategic planning.

SIU Carbondale Chancellor Austin A. Lane, SIU Edwardsville Chancellor Randy Pembrook and Dr. Jerry Kruse, dean of the SIU School of Medicine will also speak at the kickoff.

Inclusive learning

Several events are planned during the month to help participants expand their knowledge and understanding of diversity and the varying communities found within the SIU campuses. A pair of Zoom training sessions at 10 a.m. on Sept. 17 and 21 will focus on “Best Practices – How to Better Serve Hispanic/Latinx Students in Higher Education.”

Two virtual live “inclusive conversations” are set, each featuring a different topic. The session at 12:15 p.m. on Sept. 18 will highlight “Colorism in the Latinx Community” while the 12:15 p.m. Oct. 2 session will spotlight the LGBTQ community.

Several panel discussions

“Torn Between Tongues” is a panel discussion focusing on differing opinions regarding some Hispanic/Latinx students being bilingual while others speak only English. It is set for 6 p.m. on Oct. 7. Students from Maryville University will also participate.

A panel discussion at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 13, “Proud to be the First: Struggles and Successes of First Gen Latinx”, will feature first-generation Hispanic/Latinx students sharing their stories – including their successes and struggles. Lambda Theta Phi, Latin Fraternity Inc., Delta Phi Chapter is sponsoring the event.

Castillo said the goal through the various presentations is to highlight the history, culture, customs, contributions and advocacy of the Hispanic/Latinx people.

Fun, inclusive activities also set

An assortment of entertaining Hispanic/Latinx activities also will take place during the month.

Julio Barrenzuela, an acclaimed professional dancer and “salsa ambassador” will present a virtual live salsa dance lesson at 6 p.m., Sept. 23.  And the opportunity to learn about the history of the piñata and how to make a piñata will happen during a livestream virtual event at 4:30 p.m. on Sept. 30.

There is a chance to win prizes during “Loteria of Latinx personalities,” a Hispanic game similar to Bingo, with the virtual game set for 6 p.m. on Oct. 5. Participants will also learn to make delicious Latin food during a virtual live cooking demonstration at 6 p.m. on Oct. 14.

For more information

Find the complete schedule of events, including links to all virtual events, at  For additional information, call 618-453-1843 or email