by Ginger O’Donnell | February 8, 2023

On Jan. 18, a highly dedicated group of Washington University alumni braved pouring rain to celebrate the launch of La Comunidad, or “the community,” a new alumni network focused on engaging and connecting the university’s Hispanic, Latinx, and Latin American graduates.

The event took place in the Women’s Building on the Danforth Campus with a livestream option for remote viewers. Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Anna Gonzalez, also known as “Dr. G,” offered opening remarks, followed by an alumni panel discussion moderated by Julia Macias, PhD ’20, the associate dean of WashU’s Office of Scholar Programs and a member of La Comunidad’s six-person alumni steering committee.

Panelists speak at the launch event for La Comunidad.
Panelists (L to R): Mónica O’Malley de Castillo, AB ’06, Luisa Castañeda-Cano, AB ’19, and Ousmane Gaye, BArch ’22

Gonzalez shared details about her personal journey as an immigrant and the bicultural educational environment where she came of age as a first-generation student at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She also relayed a hopeful message about the state of equity and inclusion at WashU. “This is an exciting time for the university,” she says. “Not only is the administration deeply committed to encouraging students from diverse backgrounds to attend WashU, but it is also deeply invested in making sure that all members of our community feel welcomed, heard, and seen.”

Indeed, La Comunidad will fulfill an important need as the number of Latinx students on campus continues to grow, Macias says. “This is something alumni have really been looking for,” she explains. “Now that we’re at roughly 11% undergraduate Latinx students and our numbers continue to increase, how cool will it be to have this established so that students who are graduating over the next couple years can benefit?”

“Getting to see people who are doing the work you aspire to do is so important and will always be important.”

Ousmane Gaye, BArch ’22

To better serve these new graduates, network organizers want to establish regional chapters of La Comunidad and ramp up WashU Latinx alumni activity in cities across the country. The Chicago chapter will be the first to launch, with an inaugural event April 25. The network also plans to hold an annual reception at Reunion at Thurtene Carnival. This year’s reception will take place at 10:30 a.m. April 15.

There are many different ways to get involved, and all forms of participation are welcome, they say. Engagement can be as simple as reading network communications or as knee-deep as planning social events and shaping the direction of the group. “We’re always seeking feedback, so I would encourage anyone who has an interest to get involved,” says steering committee member Carol Pazos, AB ’20. 

For Pazos and many others, La Comunidad continues the community-building work they began as students. During the 2017-18 school year, she helped found the Latinx interest fraternity Alpha Psi Lambda to create spaces where those with her shared cultural identity could thrive. This accomplishment motivated her to invest in similar spaces for alumni. “Establishing the fraternity was a huge part of my college experience,” Pazos says. “It provided resources and a support system. When I graduated, I wanted to continue making space for Latinx alumni and others at the university as well.”

The network also provides opportunities to celebrate the achievements of WashU Latinx alumni. “Getting to see people who are doing the work you aspire to do is so important and will always be important,” says Ousmane Gaye, BArch ’22, who served as the youngest WashU graduate on the alumni panel. “I’m here at this event with all kinds of people who inspire me.”

For Macias, La Comunidad has been a long time coming and represents exactly what the WashU Latinx community needs to grow and excel in the future. “I’m really glad that we’re doing this and that the Alumni Association is supporting it,” she says. “I think La Comunidad is one piece of the puzzle that’s been missing.”

Submit our general interest form to let us know if you’d like to join La Comunidad and get involved!