Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Noelle Castro - Story of Us

The History of the Dominican Student Association at Harvard

I started the Dominican Student Association as a first-year in the spring 2019 semester. My Dominican identity was one that meant a lot to me growing up since I lived in a primarily Dominican and Caribbean community in the Bronx. Being that I wanted to find a community with other Dominican students that shared the same culture as me to have a safe space where they could feel welcome. There had been a Dominican Student Association that ran from 2011-2014, but by the time I had made it to Harvard, it was no longer active being that all of the previous members had graduated. Prior to that, DSA was first created by ten undergraduate students and they named the organization, Fuerza Quisqueyana. This iteration of the organization lasted until 1999 and evolved into Fuerza Latina since the organization’s demographic had shifted by 1998 because of the fact that it became such an inclusive community.

In the ambitious pursuit of starting the organization, I sent out a survey through an email for folks to fill out if they were interested in possibly joining the organization either as a board member or general member. After doing so, I had reached out to one of the co-chairs of Concilio Latino, an organization with all of the Presidents and Vice Presidents of the Latinx-identifying organizations at the college, and it oversees larger community events and supports the individual Latinx organizations within the umbrella. Through Concilio, we were able to apply for grants for our events and use resources that we didn’t have access to as a student organization that hadn’t been officially recognized by Harvard College. In creating DSA, I used other organizations to be able to rebuild a board and create a structure for the organization. After refining the organization’s mission with the other board members, we curated a safe space for Dominican and Dominican-American students to feel welcome at Harvard while uplifting our culture. In our mission we also emphasize that we want DSA to be an inclusive space for all, so we welcome all identities in the organization.

DSA is a smaller organization in comparison to Fuerza Latina or the Black Students Association. However, we have community members that regularly come to our events and being that our events are open to all, we encourage board and general members to bring a friend regardless of whether or not they identify as Dominicans. This is important for our mission, as we want to help promote and teach people about Dominican culture, while having a space where community members can feel comfortable to express themselves socially and interpersonally. However, keeping in mind that we are a smaller organization, something that does come to mind to us quite often is the possibility of the organization becoming defunct if there aren’t community members that are willing to take on the responsibilities of being on board. Although we are a space where all folks are welcome, we acknowledge that those that would want to hold board positions will most likely be students that identify themselves as Dominican. Therefore, there’s always the chance that the number of Dominican students admitted in a given year decreases and there aren’t many students in a given year to take on board positions. We’ve created a pipeline where we welcome first-year students to the board to allow them to be able to have a low-stakes involvement on board and encourage them to continue being involved on the executive board during their time at Harvard. This has helped with sustainability within the organization because it helps to promote first-year involvement in the organization and many of our former first-year representatives have gone on to become board members.

DSA's Mission

The Dominican Student Association is a cultural organization that’s meant to celebrate the Dominican and Dominican-American experience. It’s meant to provide students who are Dominican-identifying and those who want to learn about Dominican culture with a safe space to feel both represented and welcome. As an organization, we emphasize the inclusion of all identities and want everyone on campus to feel comfortable thriving in the space that’s provided by the DSA. Through our various branches, we emphasize the importance of providing members with a safe social space, establishing professional networks to connect members to Dominican professionals and alumni, and of giving back to the Dominican community outside of campus. However, as an organization, we are open to all identities and anyone who would like to learn more about our cultures and traditions. 

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