Celebrating Hispanic Heritage – UConn Today

For students in the Student National Dental Association/ Hispanic Student Dental Association (SNDA/HSDA), Hispanic Heritage Month is one of the most eventful months of the year.

Salsa nights, lunch-time trivia, cultural cookoffs, and empanada fundraisers are the events that students in SNDA/HSDA plan during the celebratory month, spanning from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

Not only is Hispanic Heritage Month an opportunity to gather and have fun, but it’s also a chance to spread cultural awareness, create memories, and foster community at the School of Dental Medicine.

“Hispanic Heritage Month is one month a year and highlighting these events allow our students the opportunity to share their culture and experiences,” said Dr. Sarita Arteaga, associate dean for students at the School of Dental Medicine. “It is a small example on how the students impact their environments and colleagues, now and throughout their time here.”

“My goal is to spread the culture throughout the school and cultivate memorable experiences for anyone who wants to participate,” says Anthony Perez-Pino, social events chair for the student organization and third-year student. “For HSDA, this is one of the most active months of the year. We are proud of our heritage!”

UConn SNDA and HSDA work together to foster a community at the School of Dental Medicine that supports and promotes minority students and advocates for better dental care for minority populations. All dental students—no matter their background—are encouraged to come together to participate in community service, socialize through various cultural events, and create connections with alumni.

“SNDA/HSDA is transparently an organization for minority students that supports and promotes minority communities,” said Tyler James, co-president and third-year dental student. “While we are bold in our mission to uplift these specific groups, we are by no means exclusive, in that we invite the entire UConn community to participate. We embrace all cultures, languages, cuisines and more, and it is very special to have a dedicated space to celebrate this with everyone.

The UConn SNDA/HSDA chapter currently has approximately 70 active members.

“I love the tight-knit sense of community and family that SNDA/HSDA cultivates for its students. It’s such a wonderful space to come together to celebrate and embrace the many cultures that make up our student body and our shared commitment to serve underserved communities,” says Barbara Shehata, co-president and third-year student.

To kick off Hispanic Heritage Month, the students hosted a fundraiser where members got together to bake empanadas and host a trivia event on Hispanic heritage. At the end of September, the group hosted a salsa night to give students an opportunity to learn how to salsa dance.

To close out Hispanic Heritage Month in October, there will be a “Cultural Food Cook-off” to encourage students to cook a dish from their native country. Through sharing a piece of their culture, members of SNDA/HSDA are hopeful that everyone will learn about their fellow peer’s culture through food. All of the dishes will be scored, which will be a “be a fun, friendly competition that will give people bragging rights about their native cuisine,” said Perez-Pino.

The students team up with the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA) to organize these Hispanic Heritage Month events. The dental students enjoy collaborating with LMSA and the Student National Medical Association in the UConn School of Medicine, as it helps expand the student’s reach in cultural awareness and build a stronger interprofessional community of minority. Perez-Pino serves as the social chair for LMSA in addition to the SNDA/HSDA.

Students in SNDA/HSDA are active year-round. They host panels and fundraisers, events during Black History Month, alumni events in collaboration with the oral health screenings, and multiple other volunteer opportunities to name a few.

“I joined SNDA/HSDA because I am passionate about community service,” James says. “The organization offers members many opportunities to service in the local Hartford community through oral health screenings, improve oral health education at elementary schools, and become mentors for other aspiring young dentists, especially those that belong to underrepresented minority groups.”

The students also get involved nationally through conferences, events, meetings, and scholarship opportunities. This month, a group of six students traveled to Seattle for the annual Student National Hispanic Dental Association Regional Conference. Three students won scholarships, and the group received honorable mention for their submission to the Orgullo Video Competition—an education advocacy video competition that UConn students have won in the past.

“I personally think this organization highlights the diversity at UConn. When I moved here from Miami, I was worried that it would lack the diversity I was so accustomed to back home. I was very happy to see such a tight knit and collaborative community of brilliant future dentists of all different ethnic backgrounds. I believe we all do a great job of promoting our respective cultures and collaborating,” Perez-Pino says.

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