Prospanica advocates for social justice for Hispanic communities

By Kevin McCall

Arts & Features Writer

kmccall1@unca.edu

Photo by Kevin McCall
Maria Gelpi’s involvement with Prospanica stretches back to its beginnings

Prospanica members attempt to create a safe space for Hispanic and Latinx (a gender neutral term used by some who originate from Latin America) members on campus to advocate for social justice as they call out UNC Asheville for its lack of recognition for the group.

Prospanica Co-Founder Kathia Fuentes Beyhaut formed Prospanica during her sophomore year at the school and still continuously leads it now in her senior year to give Hispanic and Latinx students a sense of community on campus.

“I am most proud of the way we have been able to bring people together. I think one of my passions that I found through Prospanica is the community and giving people a space to be who they are even though we are at a predominantly white institution,” she said. 

Beyhaut’s mission for Prospanica is to give Latinx and Hispanic students in UNCA the opportunity to grow and prosper as a community and to help them build networking and social skills. 

“I think that Hispanic and Latinx community on campus student-wise does a good job building community,” Beyhaut said.

Prospanica Secretary Kayla Bledsoe joined Prospanica after transferring to UNCA before the pandemic started to make friends.

“I get to meet friends, learn about a culture that I’m interested in and a part of and just have a college experience being part of an organization,” she said. 

Through Prospanica, Beyhaut focuses on creating safe spaces for students of color in order to foster a community where students can feel comfortable to express themselves. 

“I hope that people feel comfortable enough to come to me and my co-leaders,” Beyhaut said. 

Beyhaut uses Prospanica to help address societal issues such as systemic racism throughout the country.

“I think that racism evolves. There’s always some type of structural oppression in this country,” she said. “It’s always been present and been worded differently in the laws and just in general. I think that with the election cycle, it got really intense at one point.”

According to Beyhaut, Prospanica is not given enough representation or recognition by UNCA and is only ever acknowledged through staff emails. 

“I don’t even think that the chancellor has ever stopped by our tabling events. She’s definitely passed by them, she’s just never stopped by to say ‘Hi,’ or to ask us who we are,” she said. 

Other members of Prospanica said they view UNCA as a school that needs to improve its relationship with members of the Latinx community.

Bledsoe said UNCA has the right intent, but sometimes comes off as performative when recognizing minorities on campus. The school’s impact is not always what it intends to execute. 

“I do think that there is a lot of work that UNCA as a whole needs to do,” she said. “I think uplifting Black and Brown voices, giving them the resources and the platform they need would be a start.”

Beyhaut said racism remains a prevalent problem, even on UNCA’s campus.

“I’ve heard really racist things said by students in my classes this semester and I know a lot of other students of color in this campus have had to deal with very similar situations and that’s putting our grades in jeopardy,” Beyhaut said. 

For Prospanica Treasurer Shelly Garzon, UNCA rarely recognizes the Latinx and Hispanic community on campus, even during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Photo by Kevin McCall
Prospanica Treasurer Shelly Garzon helps with the group’s finances

“I never saw anything on Hispanic Heritage Month. Unless Prospanica or HOLA was hosting it, I didn’t see anything being advertised about it,” she said. 

Garzon said UNCA does not do enough to make BIPOC students feel safe and doesn’t create any sense of community for Latinx and Hispanic students. 

“I didn’t see anything being advertised about it. I didn’t hear any of my professors say ‘Happy Hispanic Heritage Month’ unless it was my Spanish professor, who was a Hispanic man,” she said.

Despite the effort the group has when it comes to organizing events, Garzon said Prospanica is not recognized as an affinity group on campus. 

“I think that’s really upsetting because we do put in so much work to create a safe space for BIPOC students on campus,” she said.

Garzon said she saw Prospanica as an underdog on campus since a majority of students did not know about the group when it first started. However, a recent uptick in support and engagement with the group has leaders hopeful about where the group will go in the future.

“Myself and my co-leaders were surprised by how well Prospanica is doing on campus,” she said.

Prospanica tries to connect with the Latinx and Hispanic community within the Asheville area as well to create a broader sense of community. 

“Around here in Asheville I feel like we are trying to create that connection with the Latinx community outside UNCA as well and just tackle more issues with the Latinx community in Asheville as a whole,” Garzon said. 

Beldsoe said Latinx and Hispanic populations in the country are often both underrepresented and misrepresented and tend to be categorized into one group without any of their diversity recognized.

“They do that with all minority groups. They’ll stick to the stereotypes and run with it without acknowledging the intelligence, the strength and knowledge that these minority groups have,” she said. 

Last semester, Prospanica primarily relied on Zoom meetings, but now can hold more in-person discussions to tackle heavy subjects such as systemic racism, microaggressions and descrimination.

“Next semester we’re going to get back to more standard meetings where we will have these types of discussions, how to be an ally,” Beldsoe said. “We’re going to be having resume workshops, helping build LinkedIn profiles.” 

Prospanica members welcome all people from different backgrounds to come and help spread awareness and advocate for social justice in the fight against systemic oppression.

“Prospanica makes and holds a safe space for us to have really uncomfortable conversations about race and social justice issues and makes it welcoming for people from different walks of life to come in,” Beldsoe said.