The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Cinthia Romo

Photo contributed by Cinthia Romo.

Not one word nor one sentence could ever sum up Cinthia Romo ’21. In fact, I’m not sure this article could encompass the world of thought, insight and empathy I witnessed while speaking with her. If I had to decide on a word, however, I’d choose empathy. Empathy has driven Cinthia throughout her incredible journey at Grinnell, both on and off campus. Her off-campus experiences have proven quite influential, particularly with the nature of the last school year.

“The last time I was a student on Grinnell’s campus was fall of 2019.” When the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, Cinthia had taken the semester off to volunteer at the U.S.-Mexico border as well as conduct sociological research for her Mellon Mays Fellowship Project. Since the evacuation of campus and the halt of on-campus activities, Cinthia has not seen many friends in a year, and in one case, two years.

Many students, particularly seniors, echo Cinthia’s sentiments, but every person has that one area of Grinnell that makes them tick, the one group or tradition that lights them up at the mere memory of it. Cinthia’s prized memories centered themselves primarily around the Student Organization of Latinxs (SOL). SOL has various events throughout the school year that have been passed down from generation to generation of Latinx students at Grinnell. These events and traditions include a reggaeton dance in Gardner Hall, Latin American Festival (LAF) and Quinceanera. Even though Cinthia served as a co-leader of SOL this past school year, many of these traditions could not be replicated online, especially given student video call fatigue that has hindered many efforts to preserve Grinnell traditions.

Cinthia expressed concern over preserving these SOL traditions once we all returned back to campus, as many of them serve as a cornerstone for uniting the Latinx community on campus, as well as sharing our culture with other in the Grinnellians. “And I’m actually like really afraid that those traditions are just gonna fall off and people are going to forget about them, because like who is going to be there next year, you know? I feel like only fourth years next year are really going to know what the traditions are, like everybody else is maybe not going to know.”

Her concerns stem from the pivotal role that SOL played in Cinthia’s early years at Grinnell. Growing up in a predominantly white area, Cinthia felt a certain hesitation shared by many BIPOC people in her position: how would she navigate between two worlds that had remained so distinct for much of her life? On an impulse during the fall semester of her first year, Cinthia walked over to the Joe Rosenfield Center (JRC) from Kistle Science Library after hearing of a Dia de los Muertos celebration going on. Upon her arrival, she found music, dancing and laughter. Later, a group of her and others her year went upstairs to the SOL suite and they asked her, “Where have you been?”

Indeed, Cinthia’s identity as a Latina drove her research through the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship. During the summer of 2019, Cinthia volunteered at an immigration detention facility working as a translator and paralegal. “At the time I was going through a lot of like turmoil too, because this was at the time when detention centers were really in the spotlight in the news, especially like child family separation and I just really wanted to do something but I didn’t know what.”

When Cinthia received an invitation through a friend to volunteer at a detention center, she took it. And, after hearing the harrowing tales of the Central American women risking their lives only

to reach harsh resistance upon reaching their destination, Cinthia’s Mellon Mays Project evolved to focus on their stories. Through her research, she also hoped to find more opportunities to help the women find refuge in the United States and to use her knowledge of the legal system to the best of her abilities. “I just remember all these situations that I’ll just like never forget, they are vividly seared into my brain.”

As I heard Cinthia describe the pain she felt listening to the women at the border, I realized I was speaking to someone who had an incredible ability to not only listen to people’s stories, but to invest a part of herself in them, to care in a way that not many people care for others. I felt a similar sentiment when we discussed her work through the Liberal Arts in Prison Program, which she has worked with since her first year.

Cinthia’s first course at the Newton Correctional Facility centered on the novel “1984” by George Orwell. “We talked a lot about surveillance, and their final projects were to do argumentative speeches, and a lot of them brought in experiences from their own life, which was really, really cool to hear.” Cinthia also served as French and math tutor throughout her time there, and during the pandemic has helped the Program create broadcast lectures. Since I had also volunteered at Newton through the Liberal Arts in Prison Program, we remarked on the respect our students showed us.

“Working at the prison was also restorative for me, because you know, I’m a survivor of sexual assault and the Newton Prison is made up of a majority of people who have been incarcerated for sexual offenses. And so, for me in a way, it was also a way to say that people are so much more than what they are labeled as or, you know, discarded for.”

Cinthia’s empathy and compassion are what make her such a talented sociologist, a field that she plans on continuing to impact. This fall, Cinthia will begin pursuing a PhD in sociology at Washington University in St. Louis, which she will attend on a full ride. She is also the recipient of the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Fellowship that the school gifts to women pursuing graduate study that show leadership, service, integrity and inclusion. Cinthia will also be moving in with her partner, who will attend law school at the same university.

I finished off our chat by asking for parting advice, not simply as a question asked to a graduating senior, but because I genuinely wanted advice from someone as impressive as Cinthia.

“If there is something that really calls to your soul… if there is something that is pulling you towards doing that thing or taking that opportunity, even if it’s terrifying, do it. Because in the end, whether you end up enjoying it or not, you’re still gonna learn a lot from that, and you’re still gonna know yourself better.”

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