February Senior Highlights

Author: Sofia Casillas

As the semester progresses the Institute for Latino Studies wanted to highlight some of our amazing seniors. Every month throughout the rest of the semester we will feature a story or two from our seniors. The seniors will focus on their time in the Institute as well as the impact that the Latino Studies supplementary major or minor has had on them throughout their four years at Notre Dame. This month we feature Mela Benitez and Dominick Blanco.

When asked about her experience, Mela commented on the classes that she was able to take as a Latino Studies minor, “Through the Latino Studies program I have received many blessings and opportunities. I picked up a minor during my time abroad in Puebla, Mexico, and have since then taken some of my favorite classes at Notre Dame through the Institute.” As a Neuroscience & Behavior major, ILS has given Mela the research to explore her desired field “from learning more about Hispanic Literature with Professor Azcarate to diving deep into health disparities faced by Latinos in the US with Professor Richman and Professor Morales-Soto.” Through it all, Mela emphasizes the power of ILS as “a place where you can find community in all realms of knowledge while tying back to such an amazing culture.”

This idea of community is central to the supplementary major and minor at ILS and can be shown in everything we do. Dominick Blanco, a computer science major, used the community he found at the Institute and learned about through the Latino Studies minor to help him explore his roots, “My freshman year I struggled a lot adapting to Notre Dame, especially when it came to understanding my own Dominican-American identity. I joined ILS during the Spring semester of my sophomore year after meeting with Dr. Richman. Taking Caribbean Diasporas changed the way I viewed myself and my Dominican-American identity and I learned about Afro-Latinidad. I also learned that I was not the only one struggling to adapt to Notre Dame's black/white paradigm of race, and found a community in ILS that I never knew existed.” After finding community within the Institute for Latino Studies, Dominick dedicated himself to building that community, and learning about it, even more, “That was when I started telling all my friends to join ILS and take classes that would also help them explore their own identity and Latinidad as a whole. This semester I am in Afro-Latinidades and I have been loving every second of it. Professor Moreno is a great teacher and I have been learning so much more about Blackness in Latinidad.”

Thank you to the seniors for sharing their stories. ILS will be hosting an open house on February 27 at 6:00 pm. Come experience the community and stay for the scholarship.

2/27/24: An early version of this article listed Mela as a Pre-Professional Studies Major. She is a Neuroscience & Behavior Major.