EL 787 is a new Ohio University student organization for Puerto Rican students that creates a sense of comfort in their culture.
Isabella Philippi, president of EL 787, started the organization to reach out and connect with other Puerto Rican students. Philippi got the idea while on a trip in Washington, D.C., when she met different people advocating for Puerto Rico.
But she also noticed that most students were part of Puerto Rican student organizations at their schools. The representative for the Puerto Rican Agenda of Chicago, Edoardo Ortiz, who managed her and other students on the trip, mentioned the idea of starting an OU org. Eventually, she started interest meetings in 2019.
“I have seen so many of my friends at other schools start organizations for Puerto Ricans from the island directly,” Philippi said. “I wanted to make mine open to everyone of Puerto Rican descent so they can feel at home too.”
The interest meetings were a success and the organization held its first big fundraiser in January 2020. The fundraiser raised money for people affected by the earthquake in southern Puerto Rico. EL 787 also teamed up with a Puerto Rican organization that specializes in helping the elderly. To raise the money, EL 787 worked with the local Athens business Universitee’s to create T-shirts in support of Puerto Rico.
Shortly after the success of the first fundraiser, EL 787 was officially recognized as an OU organization in February 2020. Although the pandemic sent students home in March, the organization continues to hold bonding meetings -- everything from deep discussions about heritage to fun, relaxing game nights.
In late August, EL 787 teamed up with the Latinx Student Union and Scripps Latinx Network to hold a Zoom hangout. Philippi said it was nice to see the unity between OU Latinx organizations, because there are not many.
In September, before the three-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, EL 787 had a virtual meeting where members talked about their hurricane and their personal experiences with it. Philippi is a senior, so she was in Athens at the time of the hurricane, but she said it was a powerful feeling for her to listen to freshmen, sophomores and juniors explain their experiences.
There is ongoing gender violence in Puerto Rico currently, Philippi said. EL 787 is in the process of planning Zoom interviews with politicians in both Puerto Rico and the United States to discuss the election.
“I just want to make a difference,” Philippi said. “Because for me, it was difficult my first three years at OU of just feeling alone, and I don’t want anyone else to feel like that. I hope EL 787 continues after I graduate.”
Victoria Negrón, vice president of EL 787, said she attended the first interest meeting and went to the rest of them before applying for her position.
“OU doesn’t have many Latinx organizations, so from the start I was hooked,” Negrón said. “From the very beginning, we were all working so hard to establish this club.”
Negrón is from Lorain, Ohio, a city half an hour west of Cleveland with a large Puerto Rican population. She said she felt comfortable there, and that it was difficult to go from that sense of community to OU, where she felt she did not have any similar support -- until she found EL 787.
“It felt like somebody was like, calling for me to come home,” Negrón said. “I didn’t have the support that I have back home my first years at OU, so it felt nice to have people that understand and appreciate the culture in a way no one else does. It’s like my home away from home. Puerto Rican culture has been such a big part of my life.”
Negrón said that although EL 787 is a Puerto Rican heritage club, students do not need to be of Puerto Rican descent to join. She said if people have a genuine interest and respect for the culture, they are welcome to join.
“I have never met people so welcoming,” Negrón said. “I keep saying it feels like a family or it feels like home, but I truly believe that.”
Sydney Collier, secretary of EL 787, said EL 787 has made her feel more at home while living far away from family. She said having people around with similar views and backgrounds has changed the atmosphere of school for her. The group makes her feel closer to home, even when she isn’t there.
“Being Puerto Rican is something I have always been proud of and having a group that knows how that feels and wants to celebrate it is heartwarming,” Collier said in a message. “For our fellow boricua bobcats or anyone that wants to know why this group is important, I want to say that having the opportunity to be included in this club has made my life so much brighter and is continually creating endless opportunities for us all.”