COLUMBUS — Rosangela Godinez didn’t paint a pretty picture of her initial experience at college.
She called it a nightmare situation that nearly caused her to drop out.
The immigration attorney said she faced racism while living in a dorm at the Nebraska college.
“My roommate turned out to be really, really racist, to the point she wouldn’t tolerate my music or my shows or my food,” Godinez said.
She considered leaving school, but instead sought assistance from the college's multicultural affairs office, which helped her get a different roommate.
Godinez shared her story with high school students attending a Latino Youth Summit, hoping it would show them how to persevere.
“I’m giving you this nightmare situation only because I want you to be prepared because you come from Columbus. You come from Schuyler. You come from communities that are probably welcoming and you could end up in a college that is not as much,” she said.
The summit, held Sept. 21 at Central Community College-Columbus, was attended by about 60 students from Schuyler Central High School, Columbus High School and Lakeview High School. The event stressed the importance of education and featured a panel of Hispanic speakers.
Godinez said she wanted students to learn that nothing should deter them from pursing their future goals.
“Don’t let that first situation or first obstacle keep you from your dream. I could have easily dropped out of school and not be where I am,” said Godinez, who works at Justice for Our Neighbors in Lexington.
For students like Iris Medina, the message hit home.
The Schuyler senior fears a culture shock when she goes to college. She already went through that once when she moved to America from Mexico.
“I came here during the fourth grade and I had to learn a different language,” she said.
Moving to another country was a difficult transition.
“People would make fun of the way I spoke English or the way I would pronounce words. That was really hard for me,” Medina said.
Over the years, she said things got better and she came out of her shell. Now Medina is afraid she might have to go through that experience all over again when she graduates from high school and moves on to college, where the student population might not be as diverse as the one is Schuyler.
Medina wanted to attend the summit so she could learn about the opportunities that are available to her as a Latina.
Vanessa Oceguera, executive director of Keep Columbus Beautiful, told students diversity can be an advantage because some employers are looking to hire people who don’t “fit the regular mold.”
“Your heritage and your background and the fact that if you can speak more than one language is an absolute positive,” she said.
Columbus High School junior Samantha Martinez said she thinks being able to speak English and Spanish is an advantage for her.
Attending college has always been her goal, even though she would be the first member of her family with a postsecondary education.
“I want to have a better future. I have seen my parents struggle with working really hard and earning very low salaries for what they do,” Martinez said.
Her parents are from Mexico and didn’t finish high school. She hopes pursuing a college education will lead her to a career in the medical field, possibly becoming a pharmacy assistant.
Hearing from speakers that included gang intervention specialist Alberto “Beto” Gonzalez and Juan Cangas, an authority in youth leadership development, helped give Carlos Aleman direction for his future.
The Lakeview junior has lived here for three years after moving from El Salvador. He attended the summit to hear what he could do after graduating from high school to make his dream of becoming a veterinarian come true.
“Something I learned is you have to work hard for something that you want,” he said.