The UC Berkeley Chicanx Latinx Alumni Association (UCB CLAA) held its 2022 Legacy Event on Oct. 2—a celebratory five-day weekend where alumni gathered at Cal to connect with each other, current students, staff, and faculty. Legacy events happen once every five years, and last year it kicked off with the opening of the new Latinx Student Resource Center.
Lupe Gallegos-Díaz M.S.W. ’86, the director of Chicanx Latinx Student Development (CLSD) and a UCB CLAA board member and campus liaison, and Elizabeth Ramirez ’05, the UCB CLAA vice president of external affairs, co-chaired this year’s Legacy Event. Gallegos-Díaz, who had organized the event once before, said it was an emotional, empowering, and engaging event for the alumni who attended.
“It’s very meaningful to them, particularly when they’re coming from very disenfranchised communities and then they see themselves like, ‘Wow, we did it, [other Latinx students] could do it, too.’ And, you know, they just get really empowered.”
UCB CLAA was first established in 1984 as the U.C.B. Raza Alumni Club. According to Gallegos-Díaz, who graduated from UC Berkeley in 1986, the club was more socially focused then; a place where Latinx students and alumni could connect and have representation on campus. By the early ’90s, when Gallegos-Díaz became involved with UCB CLAA, it had become more formalized and focused on advocacy and networking.
Now, UCB CLAA actively works to help make higher education more accessible for Chicanx and Latinx students through programs, events, and scholarships. The association, which is also a nonprofit, has awarded more than 400 scholarships and more than $250,000 in the past ten years. Many students struggle with food and housing insecurity—financial support is one way to make a college degree more attainable.
At yield events all over California, where the state population is approximately 40 percent Hispanic or Latino, accepted students meet with alumni, staff, faculty, and current students to discuss what makes UC Berkeley a good fit for them. These bilingual and bicultural events are held with the goal of increasing the number of admitted Chicanx and Latinx students who choose to attend Berkeley. At other events, like Familia Orientation, new UC Berkeley students and their families connect with staff, students, alumni, and on-campus resources before the semester begins. This orientation helps make the transition to college smoother for new students at Berkeley, which has a Chicanx/Latinx student population of almost 20 percent. In 2018, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ set a goal for the school to become a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) by 2027. In order to be eligible for HSI status, at least 25% of the enrolled undergraduate population must be Chicanx/Latinx.
UCB CLAA currently focuses on alumni professional development and student-alumni networking. This is essential in developing career trajectories and helps expose students to potential fields they could enter post-graduation. One example of the kind of partnerships that UCB CLAA and CLSD foster is the annual Sharing Wisdom Across Generations (SWAG) conference. SWAG provides informational career sessions on a variety of fields such as education, business, law, public policy, social work, public health, engineering, arts, and journalism. At SWAG, Chicanx and Latinx alumni can share their professional journeys and give advice to students.
The annual SWAG conference also includes collaborations with campus partners such as Alianza (a Chicanx/Latinx staff organization), Chicanx Latinx Studies Program, and the Career Center. This allows students to receive feedback on resumes, access resources on career profile assessments, and connect with professional staff to help them achieve their educational aspirations.
Moving forward, UCB CLAA hopes to introduce more opportunities for alumni to connect with each other. Additionally, UCB CLAA’s leaders hope to build a network of CLAA chapters at each UC campus so that students can access resources and make connections in programs that may not be available at Berkeley.
UCB CLAA embodies the collective power of generations of Chicanx and Latinx alumni, staff, and students supporting each other. Alumni organizations become spaces for students and alumni to voice their concerns, needs, and aspirations as well as get support for them. “The student voice is really essential, and the alumni voice,” says Gallegos-Díaz. “I need alums to be engaged and be there for the students…. Student and alumni [relationships] are the key to this whole equation of higher education.”
Every year, UCB CLAA helps to host the Latinx Graduation, where all Chicanx- and Latinx-identifying students can walk the stage with two guests of their choice. Gallegos-Díaz said, “Seeing over 400 Latino students walking those stages with their families is such a meaningful and unique experience for our Latinx students.”
UCB CLAA is looking forward to the new year and partnering with other Alumni Chapters. “We are excited to move the alumni community forward in our endeavors to support our alumni and students,” says Ramirez.