Claudia Cadena, ’10, arrived at the University of Richmond from Ecuador eager to forge connections with other international students and explore a diverse campus culture. Not satisfied with the breadth of cultural groups already in existence, she and several friends revived the defunct Spanish and Latino Student Alliance (SALSA).

Cadena says she always planned to attend college in the United States. The international studies major hoped to find a bit of home here on campus.

“Something that I observed when I first came to campus, is that there were some cultural groups — the Asian Student Union was doing their thing, and there was the African Student Alliance, but there was no Latin American group,” Cadena said. “That’s how the idea of forming a group came about. SALSA had existed years ago on campus, so we decided to bring it back to life.”

After Cadena helped revitalize SALSA and guide the group through its inaugural year, she left to spend a year studying Middle Eastern history and European relations at Bilkent University in Turkey.

She says that when she returned for her senior year she was startled by how much the student body had changed in such a short period of time.

“I feel like the composition of the University changed a lot and is continuing to change,” Cadena said. “The difference is huge between when I first came here and when I came back. I was so surprised. There are so many different faces now.”

Cadena picked up where she left off with SALSA, serving as president, and joined the University’s Diversity Roundtable as the group’s representative.

The Diversity Roundtable is composed of representatives from student organizations seeking to address diversity and the inclusion of underrepresented groups on campus. Nineteen organizations currently participate, including the Ngoma African Dance Company, UR Men 4 Change and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

The Roundtable meets bi-weekly during the academic year to encourage collaboration among its members and sponsor culturally diverse programs.

“It’s great because you get a whole group of people together that never talk to each other in their normal environment,” Cadena said. “But we’ll get them together and try to become a community. It’s also a good way to let people know what’s going on on-campus.”

While the gatherings initially served as a venue for groups to share information on upcoming events, eventually the members started planning programs together. Cadena says roundtable representatives bonded while preparing a brunch for campus facilities crews.

“We each represent a group, but that started changing. We started coming together, the divisions faded away.”

After graduation Cadena returned to Ecuador, eager to reconnect with family and build a couple of years of work experience before applying to graduate programs in Europe. She says she’ll miss Richmond, but is thrilled to know that the organizations she devoted so much energy to will thrive in her absence.

“The greatest thing is knowing that SALSA is going to survive,” she said. “The fact that it is going to last beyond my time here means the world to me. It is great to know that though I can't be there, my friends and I are leaving a positive mark at the University.”