Latino Policy Institute to leave longtime home at RWU Providence campus

Organization’s director says it will focus on more targeted research and activism

By: - April 24, 2023 5:56 pm

Marcela Betancur, executive director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University, gives final directions to volunteers, including Carmen Bernal, a recruiter for Progreso Latino, before opening doors to the public for a Spanish-language focused information session on driver’s privilege cards at the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex in Providence on Thursday, April 14. (Photo by Kevin G. Andrade/Rhode Island Current)

PROVIDENCE — A think tank focused on Rhode Island’s Latino community is leaving its longtime home at Roger Williams University and transitioning to an independent organization effective July 1.

The Latino Policy Institute has been located at the Roger Williams campus at 1 Empire Plaza in Providence for the past 14 years. The research and advocacy organization was established independent of the university in 2005.

Latino Policy Institute Executive Director said the organization would temporarily move to offices at the United Way of Rhode Island in July. 

We are really grateful to the university for incubating us and supporting the work we’ve done for 14 years,” said Marcela Betancur, executive director of the Latino Policy Institute since 2019.

“It’s become an important thing for us to see how we can grow and do new things within a different atmosphere that is not a higher education institution.”

The Latino Policy Institute describes itself on its website as an organization that works to “stimulate the public policy discourse by examining and communicating the evolving experience of the Latino Community.”

Roger Williams University President Ioannis N. Miaoulis said the school will continue to support the Latino Policy Institute in its mission.

“Roger Williams University is proud to have been a partner of the Latino Policy Institute, which has made a tremendous impact through its work and continues to serve as the leading voice of education and advocacy on the most important issues facing Latinos in Rhode Island,” Miaoulis said in a press release. 

“While LPI is ready to start moving in new and independent ways, we still look forward to continuing to partner with them on research and projects that serve Rhode Island and the Latino community.” 

Betancur said the move is an opportunity to expand the institute’s work from reports to more targeted research and activism. 

“We see this as an opportunity to enlarge the work our organization has been doing,” she said. “One of the goals we have is to continue working with higher education issues and to think through how we are serving the latino community.”

Institute directors prior to Betancur included former Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Anna Cano Morales, and Gabriela Domenzain.

“Everything has its season,” Morales, who directed the Latino Policy Institute from 2013 to 2017, said. “RWU was a good anchor for LPI while it focused on building capacity and making its mark.

“It’s clear that the mission of LPI is in big demand and they will likely need space to explore partners and strategies.”

Betancur said Latino Policy Institute already has an initial project for the fall, when it plans to work with Rhode Island College to study how the Hispanic Serving Institution can work to retain Latino students. 

She said the project is all the more important as almost a quarter of the Rhode Island workforce will be Latino by 2040, according to a 2015 study by the institute.

According to the 2020 Census, almost 17% of Rhode Island’s population described themselves as Latino, a jump of approximately five points from the 2010 Census. 

“How we engage the Latino community in the next decade is incredibly important,” Betancur said. “We need to focus on how we are ensuring that it’s impactful to our state and our region.

A lot of what we’ve been doing in the last 14 years since we’ve been at Roger Williams has been focused on a lot of policy reports and detailed reports,” she added. “We see this as an opportunity to see what more our organization can be doing.”


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Kevin G. Andrade
Kevin G. Andrade

Kevin G. Andrade previously covered education, housing and human services for Rhode Island Current.