Together is the only way you’re going to improve things for yourselves,” Janine Craane ’82 told the several dozen students, faculty, staff and alumni gathered in the Eighmy Powerhouse on Sept. 15.

She was recalling her experience in the late 1970s and early 1980s in La Causa, Amherst’s Latinx student activist organization, of which she was elected leader as a student. There were debates and rifts within the group, she said, but also productive collaborations—tutoring, mentoring, guest speaker engagements—on campus, across the Five Colleges and with the local community. Plus, learning how to work with a wide range of people proved helpful in her later career in finance. “I think that’s the beauty of us being each other’s sandpaper: We get to refine each other.” 

Craane spoke during a panel on “50 Years of Student Activism,” moderated by Professor Rick López ’93, who was also a La Causa leader in his undergraduate years. The panel, in turn, was part of a daylong celebration of “Latinx History at Amherst.” Earlier in the morning had been a 50th-anniversary discussion of La Causa, moderated by Professor Leah Schmalzbauer and featuring founding members Edmundo Orozco ’74, Tomás Gonzáles ’76 and Les Purificación ’76, as well as Ricardo Morales ’78. In the afternoon, a panel of faculty and young alumni recounted the founding and first five years of Amherst’s Latinx and Latin American Studies program—and looked toward the program’s future.

Between panels was a catered lunch, during which alumni, professors and current students conversed in English and Spanish. The Powerhouse was draped with the flags of Latin American countries, and on display was a timeline of key events in the Latinx history of the College, such as the 1975 premiere of the annual Pa’lante cultural show; the 1978 student sit-in at the Fayerweather snack bar, which prompted the dedication of the José Martí Cultural Center in Keefe Campus Center; and the 1993 creation of the Chicano Caucus.

On the student activism panel, Gilberto Simpson ’94 recalled how, following the 1992 acquittal of Los Angeles police officers who were videotaped beating motorist Rodney King, La Causa joined forces with the Black Student Union to occupy Converse Hall, protesting not only the verdict itself but the “disrespectful response” of some students to earlier protests, and calling for greater diversity in Amherst’s faculty, staff and curriculum. For Simpson as an Afro Latino, the intergroup solidarity felt “organic.”

Current students in the audience offered updates on life at the College—how, for example, La Casa, the Latinx cultural theme house, is now in the same building as the Spanish Language House. They also asked the alumni panelists for advice on continuing campus activism, which the alums were eager to encourage. Craane counseled students to “strategize creatively,” collaborate with other institutions and keep budgetary considerations in mind. Others noted that Amherst’s Latinx students have much greater strength in numbers today than decades ago. It’s true: the first-year class that enrolled 50 years ago included only five students who identified as Hispanic; the class of 2025 has 89.

As early La Causa chair Edwin Camacho ’79 put it: “What we planted has grown, and will continue to grow.”