The Organization of Latino/a Employees (OLE) has been in existence at Illinois State University since 1989. Formed as an affinity group for Latino/a and Hispanic faculty and staff, the group promotes cultural and social activities, supports student organizations; and assists with employee recruitment and retention. OLE is open to all faculty and staff members interested in promoting Latino/a culture.

Throughout the group’s history it has co-sponsored events in association with visiting speakers, such as famed educator Jaime Escalante, and hosted Thanksgiving dinners for students in conjunction with various student organizations. OLE has also worked with the Latin American and Latino/a Studies program to co-sponsor Latino/a Heritage Month events and annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations.

As with many campus organizations, OLE has experienced periods of intense activity. “The early 1990s and mid-2000s were particularly active periods for the group,” said Jason Vasquez, a staff psychologist in Student Counseling Services and chair of OLE’s executive board in 2011-12. “I got involved with OLE in 2011. Since coming to Illinois State, I have been very interested in connecting with other Latino and Latina faculty and staff members. OLE provided me with an opportunity to establish these connections on campus.”

Vasquez and others began working with Rick Lewis in the Dean of Students Office and the momentum for restarting the group began to build. OLE carried on the tradition of supporting cultural events and also participated in a fundraising effort for Cedar Ridge Elementary, a local grade school with a large Hispanic student population.

“Faculty and staff in the group served as mentors for graduate students and the organization grew to be a cultural home for sharing and discussion,” said Vasquez. In addition to promoting Latino/a culture, the group was also not afraid to speak out about issues involving negative cultural portrayals. In 2012, OLE executive board members authored an editorial in The Vidette to address offensive stereotyping of Latinos.

OLE is currently helping to co-sponsor some campus events but the organization is temporarily inactive. Vasquez noted that retention is always a challenge and that leadership and group activity levels change as people’s job duties change on campus, or as faculty and staff leave campus due to retirement or new employment elsewhere. An effort is underway to recruit new executive board members to carry on group leadership. “The group has a long history of positive cultural and social activities and has received a lot of support across campus over the years,” Vasquez said. “There is a really good structure in place waiting for new board members.”