By: Evan Bentley
From its beginnings less than a decade ago, the campus space, “El Centro,” has quickly become a key component of the Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) experience. The Bobby Verdugo and Yoli Ríos Bilingual Peer Mentor and Tutoring Center, more commonly referred to as El Centro, started as a room in McCreary Hall in 2016. Recently, El Centro has relocated and upgraded to a more centralized campus location, in the Crabbe Library.
With about 700 Latino students currently enrolled at EKU, there has been a 45% increase of more than 200 Latino students in the last five years. El Centro provides a welcoming and immersive environment for students to practice language skills with other students and language professors, as well as tutoring, mentoring and study spaces.
“El Centro supports students’ academic performance, particularly in the languages, because learning a language in Kentucky—which is majority English speaking—is hard,” said Dr. José Juan Gómez Becerra, director of El Centro. “El Centro provides that social context.”
The decision to relocate and renovate El Centro stemmed from the need for greater visibility and accessibility.
“We wanted to be more central. Since we were in McCreary Hall, it was harder to find. Now that we’re more central and in the library, we hope to be more visible,” said Gómez-Becerra. In the new location, El Centro has experienced an influx in the number of check-ins with students. Just seven weeks into the semester, El Centro had already hosted 1,300 check-ins at its new location—matching the number of check-ins held at the previous location in McCreary for the entirety of the 2023 spring semester.
The modern space facilitates an inclusive environment for students to grow, as evidenced by the numerous students working diligently and speaking in their first language in the space throughout the week. The support from the community, including the library’s open arms and alumni involvement, solidifies El Centro’s significance as a vital component of the EKU experience.
“El Centro creates a home away from home for many students, and it’s also a space where they can study in a language of preference,” said Gómez-Becerra. He added that students have responded enthusiastically to the improved facilities and resources. “The number of check-ins and traffic that we have had is the best way we can measure the way students are connecting and the way students feel about El Centro.”
Through its success in engaging students, El Centro symbolizes EKU’s commitment to an inclusive and intellectually stimulating campus environment. With National Hispanic Heritage Month Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, EKU celebrates the backgrounds and cultures of students and the unique perspectives they bring to the campus community. Spaces, such as El Centro, foster a sense of belonging and community and provide resources to ensure student success.
El Centro is located in the basement of Crabbe Library and is open to all students Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.