Anissa Vitale came to Kansas University worried about being Hispanic on a predominately white campus.
Now a senior, Vitale says she has found a niche at KU the Hispanic American Leadership Organization.
"It's like a family away from your family," she said. "We really all just work together to promote our Hispanic culture and our diversity."
HALO celebrates its 30th anniversary at KU this year. It has stepped up the celebration surrounding its Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The month includes the first-ever Hispanic Heritage Parade Saturday afternoon along Jayhawk Boulevard.
Members are planning an event later this year to invite HALO alumni back to KU, but details for it aren't finalized.
The group started in 1971 as the Association of Mexican American Students. The name changed in 1974 to Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Atlzlan, then changed to HALO in 1986.
Now, HALO which has about 25 active members meets every Tuesday night at the Burge Union. The group helps students secure scholarships and provides other social events.
"Our purpose is to help diversify our campus by going out and sharing, to make them aware of our culture," said president Juan Toledo, a doctorate student in the School of Pharmacy. "A lot of Hispanic students come to the University of Kansas from communities where it's predominately Hispanic. This is almost like a shelter a home away from home. It's a place for them to see people they know and recognize."
HALO's anniversary comes at a time when KU is trying to boost minority enrollment. About 9 percent of students are minorities from the United States, and another 6.7 percent are international students.
Hispanic students make up 2.4 percent of the student population more than American Indians but less than black and Asian students.
HALO members often speak at high schools to recruit Hispanic students. They had a conference for about 75 high school students last spring and plan to hold it again, at least yearly.
Members say their recruiting role will become even more important in the future.
"I think our biggest issue is our lack of Hispanic student numbers," Vitale said. "Our numbers are really poor, especially compared to other Big 12 schools. We'll work more recruiting with other organizations. That's a huge issue right now."
Gloria Flores, HALO's faculty adviser for eight years, agreed.
"They have been concerned about Hispanic-Latino recruitment for a long time," Flores said. "Whenever we have Latino students coming on campus, they meet with the students to give their impressions of being at KU.
"They know this is a predominately white campus, and they're going to work to find their niche and find other students of color, or particularly Latino students, with whom to bond," she said. "They're going through a cultural transition."