By Elizabeth Barahona, Class of ’18
Excerpt from Senior Thesis

This summer I researched the history of Latinx students at Duke University. More specifically, I researched the student organizations that served as platforms for Latin American and Latinx students to organize while at Duke. During the 1900s, university students throughout the country formed Cosmopolitan Clubs. The term “cosmopolitan,” meaning a familiarity about many countries and cultures, served as a community for foreign students studying in U.S. universities. These clubs may have stemmed from the national cosmopolitan club called Corda Fraters. The objective of many clubs was to improve intellectual and cultural understanding of different cultures, develop a community among foreign and U.S. students and encourage foreign students to come to U.S. universities. The earliest mention of Duke University’s Cosmopolitan Club was in 1919.

The club received praise in 1929 by the university’s faculty. The dean of religion Dr. Elbert Russell had invited the club to his home. The Chronicle noted that “several members of the duke faculty and their wives were also invited.” The event hosted people from seven different nationalities. On this fourth year as a club, Dr. Russell praised the members for helping the community at Duke “come to a true understanding of other nationalities and an appreciation of the latter’s customs and practices.” Most of all, the Dr. Russell commended the club for making personal connections with the faculty in order to better further the goals of the club. This event is evidence that the cosmopolitan club had prominence among the faculty and administration at the university. The praise given by the dean attests to the success the club had with building bridges between the members and faculty.

The club continued to hosts social events where members had the opportunity to talk about their nationality in community with one another. The club continued its programming in 1931 by participating in an organized basketball tournament against other clubs and fraternities. However, after 1931, The Chronicle no longer mentions the Cosmopolitan Club. It is possible that the organization disassembled in 1932 with the creation of the Pan-American Club and later the International Club. Still, the Cosmopolitan club is an important part of the history of Latinx students at Duke University because it was one of the first platforms Latin American and Latinx students had in order to organize themselves among the student body.