When Nathalie Moreno arrived at Florida Southern College, it wasn’t just the climate that was a big shift from her home in Union City, New Jersey. The Afro-Latina student, who is being honored as the school’s 2023 Honor Walk recipient, said there was a big cultural adjustment too.
Moreno is an English and Communications major who is co-editor-in-chief of the college’s newspaper, The Southern. She is also one of the founders of the college’s Hispanic/Latinx Coalition.
The Honor Walk is the college’s highest student award, dedicated to students who demonstrate leadership and student involvement on campus. One graduating senior is selected every Spring. Moreno was chosen from a group of 12 finalists, a news release from the college stated.
“”It’s kind of a little surreal, I guess I would say because it feels like it went by so fast,” Moreno said.
Moreno was born and raised in Union City, outside of New York City. She is the daughter of Dominican immigrants. She chose to attend Florida Southern College at the suggestion of her sister, who lived in Tampa, at the time.
“The campus was really, really nice and I liked the small school aspect and how everything was really close,” Moreno said.
As an Afro-Latina, Moreno said she realized she looked and sounded different from many of her peers when she arrived on campus, and also had different life experiences. Lakeland was very different from the community she grew up in, where according to the latest census data, 80% of the population is Latino.
“It was like a really big, big location shift. So I think the geographical aspect of it. And then everything that implicated … the cultural side of it, and everything and the kind of people that I encountered here. And just like the atmosphere in general was probably like the biggest change for me,” recalled Moreno.
She wished Lakeland had more authentic Latin restaurants, Dominican hair salons, and shops with inexpensive clothes were within walking distance of the college. She said that would have made her feel a little bit more at home. The lack of suitable salons nearby was partially the reason she stopped straightening her hair, cut it off, and began to wear an afro.
“I wouldn’t … go to any salon because … I don’t know what they’re capable of. I don’t know if I can trust them with the type of hair that I have,” Moreno said, explaining she tried going to a salon in Lakeland once and it didn’t turn out well.
Being in the English department – where there were the same dozen students in all of her classes – helped her adapt, she said.
“I was listening to them and hearing where they came from. And just like comparing those stories and comparing those experiences that made me kind of want to involve myself more in the campus community and influence them in the same ways that I was doing (in the) smaller (English) department,” Moreno said.
Moreno began to write for The Southern and eventually rose up the ranks to become Co-Editor-in-Chief. The role has inspired her to want to write for a newspaper or online publication for a career.
She attended Florida Southern College during a period of racial reckoning in America, where numerous organizations, businesses, and institutions were evaluating their diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives after the killing of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers. Florida Southern College was no exception, as she said the college began to create organizations such as the Black Student Union.
“My sophomore year … there was like a big issue concerning diversity on campus … That’s still obviously a glaring issue, but that’s when it really came to a head with … the administration and … students of color didn’t feel like they were supported enough and all this stuff. So they started taking a lot of action,” Moreno recalled.
Moreno said she didn’t want Hispanic students to be left out, so in the Spring of 2022, she helped form the Hispanic/Latinx Coalition, becoming a founding vice president.
‘’We thought that it was important to make them feel like they also had a place and that they didn’t have to kind of, you know, pick and choose from their backgrounds,” Moreno said. “We wanted them to feel like they could embrace it all and have a space like no matter where, what they were identifying as,” Moreno said.
According to the coalition’s group chat, its main form of communication, it has grown to about 100 members, with many of them being of Hispanic heritage and a few others who are supporters of the culture.
But before helping to form the Hispanic/Latinx Coalition, Moreno was initiated into the Delta Beta chapter of the Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority Incorporated, which is one of the many predominantly Caucasian sororities on campus. Moreno was initiated in November 2020 and was the only Black person in the initiation group and the chapter at the time, she said. She was encouraged to join by one of the members.
“It was a giant leap of faith, but it worked out for me,” Moreno. “I wanted to make it more accessible for people who want to be involved but feel like they’re compromising themselves by doing so.”
Joining a sorority can be a major decision that often is a part of one’s identity for life. Moreno worried what her family and friends would think back home, if she joined a historically white sorority. Ultimately, she decided to join the chapter with the goal of making it easier for other women of color who came after her. This past school year she served as Vice President of New Member Education.
In the process of joining the sorority, Moreno learned about her sorority sisters’ life experiences and shared many of hers. She believes her sorority sisters have become more open to others who look different from them because of it.
Moreno estimated there were about five women of color in the chapter at the time and said now, there’s about 15, out of 60 members. She hopes the college will have more options in the future for students, such as bringing on campus historically Black and Hispanic sororities and fraternities.
Moreno is also a President’s Scholar, a member of the Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society, and a part of the college’s Honors Program.
This summer, Moreno plans to head to Tokyo to study Japanese culture through courses hosted by Oberlin University as a part of the prestigious Benjamin. A. Gilman International scholarship program, a scholarship offered by the United States Department of State.
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