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Joshua Smyser-DeLeon: Connecting students through faith and culture

Joshua Smyser-DeLeon
Beyond his role coordinating retreats and training student leaders, Joshua Smyser-DeLeon also is a Latinx outreach coordinator for the university. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)
DePaul University and Joshua Smyser-DeLeon go way back. After his parents met during their time on campus, they were married in the St. Vincent de Paul Church. Not long after, Smyser-DeLeon was born and he eventually chose DePaul to study industrial organizational psychology. While an undergraduate student Smyser-DeLeon met his own future wife on campus, and, just like his parents, the two were married in the church on the corner of Webster and Sheffield Avenues.

Since January 2017, he's given back to the university community by serving as the coordinator of faith formation and the Latinx outreach coordinator in Catholic Campus Ministry. From organizing faith-based retreats to helping Latinx students become leaders in their communities, Smyser-DeLeon dedicates his time at DePaul to creating a welcoming environment for Blue Demons from all backgrounds.

Throughout the year, Smyser-DeLeon's team hosts eight retreats, each tailored for specific groups and topics ranging from new students at DePaul to men's and women's camping to Lent. In his role as a coordinator of faith formation, Smyser-DeLeon is responsible not only for the logistical side of the trips, but also for recruiting student leaders and training them to lead retreats.

"A lot of this role is based on empowering students and helping them learn how to empower others," Smyser-DeLeon says. "This includes teaching students to guide their peers through meaningful, reflective experiences; about public speaking and how to work through related nerves; and how to create a space where everyone feels comfortable and welcome. These are all skills that they, of course, use during their time in Catholic Campus Ministry, but can then take into the wider DePaul community."

Beyond his role coordinating retreats and training student leaders, Smyser-DeLeon also is a Latinx outreach coordinator for the university. Through collaboration with other Latinx organizations, departments and the new Cultural Center, Smyser-DeLeon works to create a welcoming space for everyone in the university's Latinx community.

"This role is especially significant to me because I'm Latinx and a former DePaul commuter student who sometimes felt disconnected from the campus community," he says. "Now on the other side as a staff member, I'm able to act as a resource for our Latinx population and build opportunities for our students to connect with one another."

From organizing commuter appreciation days to setting up altars, known as ofrendas, around campus in celebration of Día de los Muertos - a Mexican holiday honoring the dead - to weekly food and discussion meetings, known as "Cafecito con Tepeyac," which are open to the entire student body, Smyser-DeLeon strives to create a campus environment where all members of the Latinx community can find representation. He even is working with the Latinx graduation committee to incorporate a Misa en Español - a Spanish Mass - into this year's ceremony. 

"It can be difficult to find comfort or feel like you fit in when you don't see yourself or your culture reflected in your surroundings," Smyser-DeLeon says. "I'm thankful for the opportunity to create a space and activities that acknowledge and celebrate the various cultures under the Latinx umbrella. Not only does it help our Latinx students succeed during their time on campus and feel more connected to each other and to DePaul, but also these activities provide other members of the university community an opportunity to learn about the different cultures that make up DePaul."