Adams State's CASA offers a home for diversity

(04-12-2013)

"Casa" is Spanish for house. At Adams State, CASA is Cultural Awareness Student Achievement - and a place that feels like home.

The organization was created to strengthen the university's commitment as a Hispanic Serving Institution (federal designation for colleges & universities with a minimum of 25 percent Hispanic enrollment.) This year, that commitment comes with an actual casa - the CASA House, located on Faculty Drive just west of the Nielsen Library.

The concept is deceptively simple: students are more likely to persist in college if they are engaged with more than their courses. Sports, clubs, dorm life - all support student success.

CASA was created specifically to reach out to Hispanic, first-generation students - often commuters - to make them feel more at home and connected with university life. CASA Coordinator Oneyda Maestas said their motto sums up this philosophy: "Welcome to the CASA house: a place where strangers become friends, and friends become your family."

Cheyenna Sherlock can attest to the reality of that philosophy: "Oneyda is like a second mother to me." The sophomore history major comes from a tight-knit family in Arizona.

CASA's door is open to all students, however, as sophomore history/government and Spanish major Nathan Herren-Crites pointed out. "This is a diverse group, not just for Latinos." CASA builds cooperation with other student clubs, with members also belonging to such groups as TriBeta, Circle K, Prizm, BSU, PBL, Newman Club, and the Robotics Society.

Nathan Herren-Crites, Jesus Castillo, and Scott Gesling learn to make chicos using a traditional horno.
That's one way CASA fulfills its mission of promoting learning, celebrating cultures, and fostering student leadership and success. CASA organizes Hispanic event programming, such as the recent celebration of Cesar Chavez Week. It also sponsors field trips that focus on Hispanic heritage. For example, this past year the group learned to make chicos (dried corn), attended San Geronimo Days at the Taos Pueblo, and organized a matanza, the traditional communal activity of butchering a sheep. The group gets together every Friday to share lunch and plans.

Vicente Rios shares his tortilla making skills.
CASA has evolved from a staff-managed entity to one that is student led, Maestas said. Participants have attended national conventions of HACU (Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities) for the last three years. Last fall, 13 ASU students traveled to Washington, D.C. for the event. Student sessions develop leadership skills and explore opportunities for internships and careers in a range of fields. Students are then required to develop a campus activity or event based on what they've learned. Andres Arredondo is planning a garden to provide produce for CASA. Herren-Crites and Jose Orozco are planning wellness events.

By Julie Waechter