Leaving a legacy: MSW graduates launch Latino/a student organization before crossing the graduation stage

Wayne State University 2024 master of social work (MSW) graduates Alondra Barajas and Jesus Cruz-Navarro will leave a legacy at the School of Social Work that they hope will last long after they’ve walked across the stage at Commencement.

Barajas and Cruz-Navarro are the founders of Unidad de Guerrero/a(s), a Latino/a-focused and led social work student organization. The co-founders, who met during their undergraduate studies at the School of Social Work, saw that there was an obvious need. They could easily count the number of Latino/a(s) in their 2023 bachelor of social work cohort, and Cruz-Navarro was the only male in the program who identified as Latino/Hispanic. He often attended the Black and Latino Males in Social Work Initiative meetings but was the only Latino to do so. To ensure that the Latino/a community was seen, heard, and represented both in and out of the classroom, Cruz-Navarro and Barajas took it upon themselves to establish a Latinx student organization.

Unidad first meeting
Unidad De Guerrero/a (s) 1st Meeting held on Nov 16, 2023  
From left: Maria Garcia-Rivera, Josy Cortes-Samano, Alondra Barajas (Co-President & Co-Founder), Jesus Cruz-Navarro (Co-President & Co-Founder), Citlalli Cervantes Alvarado, and Wendolee Zamudio  

Unidad de Guerrero/a(s) was officially established as a student organization on October 5, 2023. The organization provides a safe space for Latina/o/x social work students to discuss issues and challenges that they face and to find ways to empower their community through practice.

“This organization is the first of its kind in the school, and we want to make sure that students of Hispanic/ Latino/a/x identity and/or heritage have a safe haven of hermanos y hermanas (brothers and sisters),” said Cruz-Navarro. “The primary values of our student organization include recognizing inspiration and paying homage to all the Latina/o(s) inside and outside of the Wayne State School of Social Work who fought to give our community representation and make space for us to have opportunities that many generations have dreamed of and asked for.”

Members are encouraged to identify role models, members of the Latino/a/x community, and those who empower them to create positive changes.

Graduation ceremony
Center for Latino/a Studies Nuevo Comienzo Latina/o/x and Native American Graduation Celebration 2023  
From left: Alondra Barajas, Julissa Chavero, Doris DeMarco, and Jesus Cruz-Navarro

When naming the group, Cruz-Navarro and Barajas bonded over their shared love for Latino/a rap music and sought to embody the spirit of the pioneering female artists in the field. Inspired by messages of empowerment and community unity, they chose the name Unidad de Guerrero/a(s), meaning Unity of Warriors.

Both Barajas and Cruz-Navarro were advanced-standing students and graduated during the May 3, 2024, commencement ceremony. Barajas graduated with a concentration in Innovations in Community, Policy, and Leadership, and Cruz-Navarro with a concentration in Interpersonal Practice. Cruz-Navarro was selected among all Wayne State graduates to deliver the student address, which he delivered in both English and Spanish

“Many people doubted that a Latino with disabilities and a member of the LGBTQ+ community from Southwest Detroit would bring home an associate degree from Henry Ford Community College, a bachelor’s degree in social work and now a master’s degree in social work from Wayne State University,” Cruz-Navarro said in his address. “Stay grounded in your roots and always remember where you come from, loving your culture and identity.”

The newly developed organization has approximately 12 members who met regularly during the Fall 2023 and Winter 2024 semesters. Judith Wineman, Faculty Liaison to School of Social Work student organizations, helped develop Unidad de Guerrero/a(s) and has helped to shape the organization as its faculty advisor.

Unidad meeting
From left: Alondra Barajas (Co-President & Co-Founder), Yulisa Rocha-Ortiz, Jesus Cruz-Navarro (Co-President & Co-Founder), and Maria Garcia-Rivera  

“My work with Jesus and Alondra was a team effort. After several years of trying to get a Latino/a student organization going, I was lucky to have them both in my BSW macro social work class last year,” said Wineman. “Alondra and Jesus are both great organizers and this organization is the wonderful result.”

Acting Dean Debra Patterson stated "Jesus and Alondra have created an important legacy in the School of Social Work. Unidad de Guerrero/a(s) creates a safe space for current and future Latino/a/x social work students to make lasting connections and develop a sense of belonging and support." 

Barajas and Cruz-Navarro, who acted as co-presidents, will continue in an advisory role to ensure the smooth transition to new leadership and continued efforts to support future students. While the organization is open to all students, the primary focus is on topics affecting Latino/a/x social work students and professionals. The organization’s goals involve celebrating unity and allyship within their Latino/a/x-focused space, honoring their culture's legacy, respecting diverse perspectives, promoting inspiration, and emphasizing self-care and empowerment for Latina/o/x practitioners and allies.

Learn more about how you can become involved in Unidad de Guerrera/o(s).

Writer: Sarah Freeman, Editor: Betsy Vanderstelt

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