In 1991, six Latino students at Syracuse University established a chapter of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc., founding the school’s first Latino fraternity. Although they came from varied backgrounds—Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Ecuadorean—each of them sought to fill the void of their Latino culture missing from their college experience. “We were looking to create something that felt like home,” says founding member Ken Kuilan ’96.
In December, a group of Lambda Upsilon Lambda alumni signed an agreement with Syracuse University to launch an endowed scholarship, the first Latino greek organization at the University to do so. “We lead from the front,” Kuilan says.
Although their agreement with the University is to create a $50,000 endowment, the group has greater ambitions. “We hope to someday be able to fully fund a Latino student’s education,” says Jason Olivo ’95.
According to Frances Gonzalez ’13, the scholarship reinforces the fraternity’s mission to support Latino students in achieving a four-year college education. “This is what we do as a fraternity so creating this scholarship is a way to continue to support that mission as alumni,” he says. “COVID is only going to increase the scholarship need for first-generation students and that has ignited the fire for us to give back.”
Although the scholarship fundraising effort was launched prior to the pandemic, organizers say that COVID-19 has actually strengthened their effort. “COVID has pointed a spotlight on the increased need for student scholarships,” says Jesse Mejia ‘97, who served as CBT co-chair in 2017. “The economic downturn has had a devastating impact on low-wage earners. Those low-wage earners are our parents and this pandemic, through the lens of the scholarship fund, has reinforced our belief in our fraternity’s mission to support the Latino community.”
Kuilan says that communication among the organization’s brotherhood —from founding members to current brothers—has increased dramatically during the pandemic. “We have our 30th anniversary coming up next year, so along with CBT and COVID, there’s a lot of energy devoted to staying connected, which only helps our fundraising effort,” he says.
Creation of the scholarship fund was spurred in part by the philanthropy of Zhamyr “Sammy” Cueva ’93, a founding member who donated funds in 2017 to place benches on the Syracuse University Quad honoring the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations (NALFO) groups on campus. Cueva is also a member of the Syracuse University Office of Multicultural Advancement Alumni Council and a mentor in the Our Time Has Come Scholarship Program.
At the same time, Olivo was engaged in conversations with Rachel Vassel ’91, assistant vice president of multicultural advancement, about making a major commitment to Our Time Has Come. He wanted to give back in a way that was personally meaningful to him, and after soul searching about the impact he wanted to make for Syracuse University students, joined forces with Cueva, Kuilan, Gonzalez, and Mejia to launch the La Unidad Latina – Theta Chapter Endowed Scholarship fund. “Collectively, we share the desire to lead from a position to support a Latino cause and we are proud to carry the Syracuse University Flag to help our community prosper,” Olivo says.
Cueva adds that the scholarship is a way to thank the University that “took a chance on us,” he says. “Now we have the opportunity to take a leadership role in supporting others.”