Nurturing a ‘home away from home:’ El Centro’s Xiomara Lopez

Director of El Centro, Xiomara Lopez, is committed to providing meaningful opportunities to current Chicanx and Latinx students at UCSC

El Centro Director Xiomara Lopez (Oakes ’14, legal studies).
El Centro staff outside the Seymour Center.

When she was a student at UC Santa Cruz, Xiomara Lopez (Oakes ’14, legal studies) found it challenging to be so far from her family and community in South Central LA. She often found herself navigating between the two worlds of home and university. But, in her second year, Lopez—a first-generation college graduate—became actively engaged with El Centro, and was able to find community at UCSC. Eight years later, Lopez is the Director of El Centro, coming full circle to the center that transformed her undergraduate experience.

“It has been a meaningful experience to return to the place that had a formative impact on my development, not only as a scholar but as a professional in student affairs,” Lopez said. “It’s been a beautiful and humbling experience to be back at UCSC. This is my dream role, and this is where I’ve wanted to come back to serve students.” 

As a student, Lopez interned for El Centro, was involved with Sigma Lambda Gamma Sorority and the Legal Education Association for Diversity (LEAD), and was an academic intern for GEAR UP with the Educational Partnership Center (EPC). It was through her involvement at El Centro, that she learned about Latinx student organizations and was able to take on various leadership opportunities on campus that contributed to her sense of belonging at the university. In addition, her work providing college advising and preparation workshops to middle school students and families with GEAR UP solidified her decision to pursue a master’s degree in the educational counseling programs at the University of Southern California.

As the Director of El Centro, Lopez is committed to providing meaningful opportunities to current Chicanx and Latinx students at UCSC.

“At El Centro, we nurture a “home away from home” by affirming students’ identities, honoring our cultural wealth, and bringing awareness of the social and equity realities of our communities. Through a community approach, we equip students with the skills and resources to thrive, to take action to achieve justice in our communities, and cultivate joy” Lopez said. “Our programs and opportunities for involvement provide students with community, leadership development, and critical thinking skills.”

Lopez says some of her goals for El Centro include increasing the visibility and reach of the center among students and the campus community, fostering a sense of belonging, and celebrating the legacy of Chicanx Latinx students and alumni at UCSC.

Overall, Lopez’s goal is to continue to grow and amplify the academic internship program offered at El Centro which transformed her undergraduate and professional experience. 

“For me, being an intern at El Centro was a transformative experience, and ultimately, it’s what inspired me to engage in cultural center work,” Lopez said. “And so, one of my biggest goals is to continue to engage with students by welcoming them into our space and providing holistic support and opportunities that will contribute to their academic and career development.” 

In addition to engaging with students, Lopez says there are various ways for alumni to stay involved, including joining the UC Chicanx Latinx Alumni Association (UC CLAA), and the UCSC Latinx Alumni Network, attending upcoming El Centro events, and participating in El Centro’s Giving Day campaign to help raise funds for cultural stoles gifted to graduating Latinx students.

Lopez says to look out for multiple upcoming events open to alumni, such as the Courageous Career Conversations, once known as the Multicultural Career Conference. Alumni are invited to participate in various panels and connect with undergraduate students. 

“I’m working to develop meaningful relationships with alumni,” Lopez says. “So I encourage and welcome alumni to reach out if they have any ideas or want to get connected to El Centro and the students here.”