By Dave Cannon, ‘10

There were two main items on the agenda at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus 2009 Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C: U.S. policies on Latin American immigration and Hispanic representation in the 2010 Census. A small group of Richmond students were in attendance as a lineup of prominent public officials, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, addressed the topics.

“Actually being there, you could really feel how passionate they are about these issues,” said Federico Ciner, a sophomore majoring in international business. “I particularly enjoyed hearing from Senator [Robert] Menendez of New Jersey, who is the only current Hispanic member of the Senate.”

Ciner is a member of Spanish in the Community (SITC), a University of Richmond Living-Learning program that emphasizes Spanish language proficiency through hands-on engagement in the Hispanic community. Last fall, students in the program traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the conference, where they received first-hand insight into a variety of relevant issues.

Having studied Hispanic immigration as part of their coursework, students were able to tie the information into classroom discussion upon their return to campus.

“I am now able to formulate intelligent, well-founded opinions with respect to Hispanic immigration,” said Daniel Hoeft, a sophomore pursuing an international career in finance or marketing. “At the same time, I am more cognizant of different perspectives on the issue.”

Students in SITC are also able to get involved in the local Hispanic community through service-learning projects. Hoeft tutored a Mexican kindergartener at a local elementary school, while Ciner helped provide social services through volunteer work at the Richmond Hispanic Liaison Office.

"For me, the most rewarding experience has been getting to know Latin Americans in Richmond and learning how they bring their own culture into the United States,” said Ciner, who is an international student from Argentina.

SITC participants also live together in Lakeview Hall, which creates a unique connection between academics and social life.

“The personal environment cultivates a greater sense of respect and camaraderie among the students and contributes to a stronger work ethic,” said Hoeft. “I enjoyed my experience so much that I applied and was accepted to be the program’s resident assistant next year.”

“I would definitely recommend Living-Learning communities to other students,” said Ciner. “It’s a really good way to get involved on campus. It’s an experience everyone should have.”

For more information on Living-Learning communities, visit http://www.richmond.edu/living-learning/.