Serving the Lexington Hispanic community is a vital part of learning Spanish at UK
by Amelia Clark '20
The University of Kentucky Hispanic Studies department does an excellent job of providing opportunities for its students to give back to the community. It is hard to complete coursework through the Hispanic Studies Department without taking a class or multiple classes that have a component that involves some sort of giving back or working for and with the community. There are many opportunities for students to better their Spanish not only in the classroom but in a more meaningful way as well.
Over the last decade, the Hispanic Studies department has drastically improved the variety of courses that it offers for its students, and these opportunities to give back are central to that mission. Casey Coyle, Kids & Youth Development Coordinator for Nathaniel Mission, whose mission is to support communities in need in Lexington through faith, has a unique perspective, as she was a Spanish major at UK who participated in outreach as a student. Casey says that because the community that they serve includes a large population of Latino people, “having Spanish-speaking volunteers is incredibly helpful in communicating with parents, and helping students with homework! It is also a beautiful picture of the community being in this together.” Victor Palomino, the Programming Director of RadioLex’s Spanish language programming, echoes the importance of connecting students with the community, saying that “there’s something unique about a community radio station. Our volunteers not only help the community, they also get to participate in free media and play a part in amplifying the voice of the people.”
This unique relationship has a lot to do with the support of the faculty of the Hispanic Studies department. Dr. Ruth Brown, Senior Lecturer and Academic Coordinator, has taught multiple classes that involve community outreach and volunteering. Dr. Brown, like others, believes that it is important to provide these opportunities with the local community to connect classroom learning with real world experience. Dr. Brown believes that facilitating these relationships allows for students to use their Spanish in a way to make a meaningful contribution to society. Dr. Heather Campbell-Speltz, Assistant Professor & Director of Undergraduate Studies, has also taught classes at UK that have a community engagement aspect of the course. Dr. Campbell-Speltz says that she loves that these classes create a “growing awareness of how community engagement can enrich a learning opportunity and make a lasting impact on everyone involved.”
The most important perspective of this amazing opportunity as part of the UK Hispanic Studies department is the perspective of the current students. Rebika Khanal, a double major in Spanish and Neuroscience, has taken multiple classes with a community volunteering aspect. Rebika volunteered at both Maxwell Elementary and Arlington Elementary, serving two different Spanish-speaking communities in Lexington. She even went out of her way to undertake research for her Spanish Honors Thesis that put her back into a classroom to continue giving back to the Lexington Hispanic community. Rebika says that “the students loved seeing me because they knew I was there to give them my full attention and help them with whatever they needed. Not only did I provide academic help, but I was also able to connect to the students and serve as their mentor.” George Boyd, IV is a Spanish Major who has participated in many courses in a different way than Rebika. George served as a translator for the Legal Aid of the Bluegrass. George says “el puesto más importante ha sido el de traductor voluntario. Mis traducciones sirven para que los clientes hispanohablantes del Programa Estatal de Asistencia con el Seguro Médico (SHIP, por sus siglas en inglés) tengan acceso a información en su lengua materna. Por este trabajo, he tenido la oportunidad de grabar un anuncio de servicio público que fue transmitido por WLXL95.7, El Pulso Latino. ¡Qué emocionante!” George was able to give back to the Hispanic community in ways that went beyond his work in the classroom. “Ha sido una de las experiencias más gratificantes de mi carrera universitaria.”
I am sure that it is obvious that everyone involved in the partnership between the UK Hispanic Studies department and those who serve the Lexington Hispanic community thinks that this is a vital part and aspect of learning Spanish at UK. “UK Spanish students bring an excitement and relatability to our students. They provide a fun ‘older sibling’ feel to our program with a smaller age gap. They are always eager to jump in and help!” Casey Coyle states, based on both of her roles in this partnership.