Expanding the Service of Culture Centers on University Campuses

Expanding the Service of Culture Centers on University Campuses

Policy Brief #23-7November 2023


For many Latinx students, culture centers on campuses are places that “feel like home.” For multiracial Latinx students, it is a place where Latinx ethnic identity may be questioned. Recommendations point to expansion of programming that disrupts monolithic conceptualizations of Latinx ethnic identity to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse Latinx student population on university campuses.


The number of Latinx students enrolling in higher education has been increasing since 2010. Despite increasing enrollments, underrepresentation in four-year degree attainment persists. In 2019, only 18.8% of Latinxs over the age of 25 had earned a four-year college degree, while 40.1% of nonLatinx individuals had done so1. These trends suggest that efforts must focus on the retention of Latinx undergraduates.

One intervention has been connecting Latinx students with culture centers to increase a sense of belonging on college campuses and, thus, increase chances of persisting. However, we know little about how ethnic identity impacts participation at culture centers in the first place, or why some Latinx students do not access culture centers.

Recent research (see Martinez & Nuñez, 2023) confirms that there is a link between ethnic identity and participation at a Latinx culture center, as one would expect. Correlations between a Latinx ethnic centrality measure and weekly/monthly participation measures shows that Latinx ethnic centrality is positively correlated with participation at La Casa. That is, students who reported high scores on the centrality measure noted higher levels of weekly and monthly participation at La Casa (Pearson’s r = .331** and .434**, respectively; **p < .01).

The study also confirms that for many students Latinx culture centers are welcoming spaces for Latinx students. While only 7.1% of students reported that their participation at La Casa was primarily because it “feels like home,” the top three reasons for participating at La Casa (i.e., for events, friends, and meetings) from the survey data suggest that students feel comfortable in this space.

Top Reasons for participating:

  • Attend events 30.0%
  • Meet friends 25.7%
  • Hold meetings 10.0%
  • Feels like home 7.1%

While La Casa can affirm ethnic identity, it can also challenge it. The reasons most students give for not accessing La Casa include busy schedules (33.3%) and lack of interest (18.8%) but 12.3% of survey respondents noted that they do not feel welcomed at La Casa. While this percentage is not large, it is still significant enough to explore.

Interviews suggest that La Casa can be a place where Latinx ethnic identity is questioned or challenged for those not fitting stereotypical ideas of Latinx identity, such as multiracial Latinx students2. For instance, when asked why she didn’t engage with La Casa much, a senior who identified as multiracial (Mexican and South Asian), responded by saying, “…I wasn’t Mexican enough or like Latino enough to like come here.” Similarly, a first-year student who identified as biracial (Guatemalan and non-Hispanic White), said she rarely visited La Casa because, “For me to come and be an outsider, which is in my head, is a very uncomfortable situation, and so I can’t get myself to overcome that when I come in.” Often, students have not necessarily had negative experiences at La Casa, but past encounters when their Latinx ethnic identities have been challenged make them fear similar situations will occur on campus.

Multiracial Latinx students were not the only ones to describe experiences in which others challenged their Latinx ethnic identities. Other non-multiracial Latinx students felt their identities were challenged because they did not speak Spanish or were good students in school, characteristics that break from Latinx stereotypes. Like multiracial Latinx students, these students feared that similar negative high school experiences would take place on campus and specifically at La Casa, which kept them away from this space. Overall, this study contributes to a body of work finding that a good number of Latinx students view cultural centers as a comfortable space to meet friends and/or confirm their ethnic identities. But unlike past research, we find that culture centers may not be a safe haven for all students. We do not believe this to be an inherently negative side of culture centers. Instead, we find that culture centers are simply microcosms of our larger society, which tends to rely on essentialist notions of what it means to be “Latinx.”


Our recommendations largely seek to expand the reach of culture centers to address the needs of an increasingly diverse Latinx student population on college and university campuses.

  • Continue programming and services that make many Latinx students feel “at home.”
  • Expand programming and educational activities to include diverse and intersectional notions of what it means to be “Latinx.” As an example, inviting speakers who identify as Afro-Latinx, Indigenous Latinx, and/or LGBTQ+.
  • Move programming and/or services beyond the confines of culture centers. For example, one respondent suggested moving programming to the dormitories as this would reach students who do not typically access culture centers.
  • Create multicultural groups and/or student organizations on campus to reach a wider population of Latinx students.

These recommendations are only possible if campus administration commits additional resources to culture centers.

This brief is based on a manuscript published in the Journal of College Student Development.

Martinez, S., & Nuñez, A. J. (2023). “I am not Latino enough”: Latinx ethnic identity and participation at La Casa. Journal of College Student Development, 64(4), 439-53


Sylvia Martinez is an associate professor of Latinx education at Indiana University.

Amy J. Nuñez is an assistant professor of teacher education at Heritage University.