La Casa’s Wellness and Culture Talking Circle is a new twist on programming


A new initiative started this year by Indiana University’s La Casa Latino Cultural Center, a program within IU’s Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs (OVPDEMA), is somewhat unique when compared to some of its other offerings. La Casa’s Wellness and Culture Talking Circle series, which occurs monthly, combines aspects of Latin American culture with a wellness check for students.

The series was brainstormed by La Casa Director Lillian Casillas-Origel and staff member Leticia Zapata Gonzalez. The duo wanted students to feel comfortable opening up about their concerns, while incorporating cultural traditions from different Latin American communities.

“It’s really hard to get the students to come to mental-health programs dealing with stress, depression, etc. So, one of the things that the students gave us feedback about was they wanted to see more cultural events. They wanted to explore more diversity within Latin American culture. In the Latino community, we have these talking circles. When we have problems, we have a tendency not to go to mental-health professionals. Instead, we keep it within the family,” said Casillas-Origel. 

“So, we thought how use the relationship they have with the center—it’s a community, a family—how do we use that as a way of getting them to talk, and can we incorporate a cultural component to it? The idea was similar to the quilting bees, where women would get together to sew and as they sewed, they’d talk to each other. We decided we’d do it once a month and every month, we would highlight a different culture and a different craft. We brought those three things together: The idea of talking about something to do with mental health, bringing in the talking circle, and creating a cultural component.”

Not only is it attracting a new audience, but they bring other new people. That’s what we like to see happen in our programming. It’s a communal retention initiative. 

La Casa Director, Lillian Casillas-Origel