On Saturday March 20 at the Heffner Alumni House, Phi Iota Alpha fraternity held a celebration of 105 years of Latino presence on the RPI campus. The event, which featured a keynote address by Margarita Cervantes of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies department of the University at Albany, was co-sponsored by the greek dean, the Office of the First Year Experience, the Office of Institute Diversity and the Office of Minority Student affairs, and was attended by over 100 students, faculty, and administrators.
The celebration was opened by two students who touched briefly on the history and the struggle of minority groups back in 1898. La Union Hispano Americana was the result of that struggle, making it the first association of Latin American students to be ever founded in the United States. At the time, the immediate goals of the UHA were to provide a cultural environment for students of both Latin American and Spanish heritage.
Vice Provost for Institute Diversity Kenneth Durgans, who attended the celebration, felt that “an organization that has been around for 105 years, especially being an organization of color, we all should be proud.”
Phi Iota Alpha itself was started in 1931 on the RPI campus, and was based on the same ideals as that of UHA. From weekly philanthropy events to field days where they introduce local area high school students to what to expect in college, the RPI chapter is very active. Phi Iota Alpha and its alumni have a history of being involved: from the former president of Honduras, Carlos Flores, to Orlando Gutierrez—an RPI Alumnus who was involved as a lead architect in creating bridges with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (the lead professional society for Latinos) and NASA. The RPI Phi Iota Alpha chapter is also known for its strong alumni network ties and being able to provide its members with many outlets and tools for their future.
Jose Feliz, current president of Phi Iota Alpha, said, “We are one of the lead groups on this campus to help empower minorities in all ways possible.”
But Hansel Baez felt that their influence was even stronger. “We, Phi Iota Alpha, are part of every Latino’s history, not just RPI.” The keynote address by Dr. Margarita Cervantes was very inspiring.
At the event, there was a strong theme of ethnic groups giving up fighting and conflict to choose education. “The struggles of many groups in 1898 set the path for RPI students and many others. Instead of taking up arms and fighting, they chose education to go far,” said Felix Muniz during an address to the assembly at the event on the history of Phi Iota Alpha.
Many Phi Iota Alpha alumni were present in addition to their board of trustees. William Feliciano, an alumnus of both RPI and Phi Iota Alpha, spoke to the crowd and offered some words of congratulations to the members, encouraging others to continue to take part and continue to lead.
Vice Provost Durgans also spoke at the event concerning the Institute’s involvement in helping keep these ideals alive on the student and administrative level. “It is great to see that many current students have the opportunity to interact with alumni and get a new outlook. This is what we [administrators] like to see,” he said.
Other speakers and administrators at the event included Karen Ferrer-Muniz, the dean of the office of minority student affairs, Brian Dominguez, the dean for greek affairs, and poet Anthony Morales, who related his own experiences to the crowd in an energetic and personal manner.
Gavin Gyle ’05 commented “it is great to see that RPI was the prime environment for such rich history.”