Two weeks ago, the Spanish Club at the College of Staten Island held its Hispanic Heritage Fiesta in the Center for the Arts, bringing together an eclectic group of students and staffers for a taste of Hispanic and Latino culture and cuisine, over good company, fun games, and conversation. It was a great event for all who attended, but even more so for junior Lizbet Rodriguez, who resurrected the Spanish Club and organized the event after a spell of inactivity.

Lizbet, a Macaulay Honors College student and Psychology major at CSI, is no stranger to leadership initiatives. Her work on the Macaulay Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, served as the impetus behind bringing the Spanish Club back at CSI. “Last year, the committee proposed collaborating with multiple ethnic groups on campus, such as the AAPI Club and BSU,” she explained. “It was then that I discovered that CSI had no existing active Latino or Hispanic club. I was very shocked, considering the large population of Hispanic students we have at CSI. I soon became determined to change that.”

A Mexican American, Lizbet is a proud Hispanic and Latina, quite fluent in the Spanish language. She banded together with friend and classmate Ariana Gaytan, Spanish Club Secretary, to start the process of resurrecting the Spanish Club, rebranding it to be less of an academic-themed club focused on the Spanish Department on campus. “Our goal was to create a cultural group that fostered a sense of community among the Hispanic and Latino students at CSI,” Lizbet explained.

It took some time, but Lizbet ultimately connected with existing Spanish Club members, and she decided to keep its original name. “We wanted to be an inclusive club, honoring all of our individual Latin identities,” she said. “The name ‘Spanish’ somewhat stole that individuality. However, we did not want to exclude Spain either as many of our faculty and staff are, in fact, Spanish. We ultimately decided to keep the name in order to honor the legacy of the club at CSI and use the Spanish language as a unifying factor.”

Lizbet is a Psychology major at CSI

From there, Lizbet and Ariana began actively recruiting for the club, and she realized quickly the swell of Hispanic and Latino students on campus who were excited about the project. “We have students from Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia, and Venezuela, to name a few, and we started by reaching out to them and then branching out to students in our classes, connecting with Latino professors and asking them to spread the word to their students! This year, we have amazing recruitment opportunities through CSI and keep gaining more traction.”

For Lizbet and her cohorts, clubs like hers are not just worthwhile but necessary to the collegiate experience. “Clubs like these are so incredibly important for student success,” she explained. “Many Hispanic/Latino students on our campus are first-generation high school graduates and college students. They are breaking down barriers, creating legacies, and ending generational cycles of limited opportunities and education. But navigating higher education can become very difficult when you feel out of place. Not having anyone to relate to can make the college journey a very lonely one. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and lost at times. Through clubs like this, we create a community that supports students going through the same challenges.”

Lizbet’s call to action to establish this community for her and her peers is one in a long line of leadership endeavors to which she has lent herself. As the former Salutatorian at Curtis High School, Lizbet was a Link Crew Leader, a student-led group that helped incoming freshmen transition more smoothly. She was a CUNY CARA Youth Leader working as a peer advisor, and following an internship with NYU Tandon’s School of Engineering in the summer after her junior year, she became an ambassador for the K-12 ARISE program for two application cycles. In her senior year of high school, she founded the Dr. Joan Graziano Holiday Toy Drive, donating toys to sickle cell anemia patients at RUMC, and in 2023, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This has continued at CSI, where she is also the Class of 2025’s Macaulay Honors class representative and serves on the Macaulay Honors Scholars Council on the Academic Affairs Committee. She has tutored students in American Sign Language and has served as an LSAMP fellow, working as a research assistant in CSI’s Child Development Lab. This past summer, she was promoted to research laboratory project manager in the CD lab and also had a clinical speech-language pathology internship at the Sensory Studio. Alongside her role as President of the Spanish Club, she is the Marketing Manager of CSI’s Linguistics and Speech Science Club. She’s also created a fundraising team to walk and raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which will be participating in the Light the Night Walk at CSI for the second year in a row on Saturday.

And so, the Spanish Club is off and running under the stewardship of Lizbet and others like her, laying the groundwork for what she hopes will be a great chance for all students to establish a community under Hispanic and Latino culture. “The purpose of our events is to get everyone to come together and connect with each other while celebrating our culture. I truly believe that the only way for this club to succeed is through events where the entire community can get together in a casual environment,” she said.

What does the future look like for Lizbet? The first-generation college student from a CSI family (Lizbet’s sister, Litzi, is a graduate of CSI, and her younger brother, Maximo, is a first-year student at CSI – her youngest brother, Alex, is a student at Curtis High School), she is pursuing her degree in Psychology with the intention of becoming a Pediatric Speech and Language Pathologist. In the meantime, look for the Spanish Club to have more spirited programs coming soon. “We want to continue having fun events where students feel comfortable speaking their language, dancing to their music, and eating their favorite foods while on campus. I hope our Hispanic/Latino students feel seen and heard,” Lizbet said. “By the time I graduate, I would like to see the Spanish Club become so active and welcoming that it becomes one of the reasons that future students consider enrolling at CSI.”

So far, so good!

To find out more about the Spanish Club, visit the club’s Instagram page @officialcsispanishclub.