Story by Graham Duncan
Lander University sophomore Citlali Avila-Cabrera, a political science and history double major, says one of her favorite spots is inside the Josephine B. Abney Cultural Center, where Lander displays the flags of countries with which the University has a relationship, through students, alumni and friends.
Each time she visits the Cultural Center, she is reminded of her first trip to Lander’s campus as a first-grader at Pinecrest Elementary School in Greenwood. On that occasion, she was able to find the flag of her family’s home country on display. “My parents and grandparents are Mexican immigrants,” she said. “Seeing the Mexican flag hanging in the Cultural Center made me feel welcome as a first-grader, and it continues to make me feel welcome more than ten years later.”
“Si se puede,” she said. “It can be done.”
Avila-Cabrera is a leader within Lander’s student body. She serves as president of the Political Science Association, which she says has allowed her to grow as a leader and public speaker, in addition to giving her the chance to meet other political science majors and participate in civic engagement in the Greenwood community.
She’s also the vice president of Somos LU, the Hispanic-Latinx student organization at Lander. For National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, Avila-Cabrera said she has enjoyed working with other members of Somos LU to highlight Hispanic and Latinx students who are doing great things. She added that Somos LU is also planning to host a social later this semester in support of local Hispanic businesses.
Known by her friends and professors as “Cici,” Avila-Cabrera grew up in Greenwood and graduated from Greenwood High School in 2020. In her free time, she enjoys serving the students and families of Greenwood County School District 50 by working as a translator. “It is a job I thoroughly enjoy,” she said, “and it is a way of giving back to my community.”
Last spring, Avila-Cabrera joined Lander University’s Honors College, where her leadership qualities, as well as her devotion community service, were quickly noticed by her peers and faculty mentors. Dr. Lillian Craton, director of the Honors College, called Avila-Cabrera “ambitious, intelligent, friendly and enthusiastic,” while adding that she has emerged as the Honors College’s “conversation-starter-in-chief. She knows how to ask questions that make people want to engage and debate, and that’s a phenomenal thing on a college campus.”
“Cici is full of energy, and her motivation is contagious,” added Dr. Osvaldo Parrilla, professor of Spanish and faculty advisor for Somos LU. “I’m proud to see a first generation Hispanic student is part of the Honors College.”
When asked to choose a single word to describe Lander, Avila-Cabrera quickly offered up “community,” saying there is a sense of community at Lander that transcends students, faculty and staff. “I cannot count the number of times I have had conversations with people whose names I do not know,” she said. “At the holiday tree lighting, there are both staff and students present and enjoying the event together. Homecoming week brings us all together in friendly competition, and though we each have our own organization, at the end of the day we’re all Bearcats.”
Avila-Cabrera insists this special camaraderie among students, as well as faculty and staff, is what makes Lander stand out above other schools. “Students go to athletic events, art galleries and concerts to support fellow students,” she said.
“Whether we realize it or not, we are a community.”