How a Latino Studies Scholar found his voice at Notre Dame through theology, journalism, and political science 

Author: Ashley Lo

Aaron Benavides 1200

Aaron Benavides is part of first cohort in the Latino Studies Scholars Program through the Institute for Latino Studies.

Junior Aaron Benavides is pursuing faith through service, building community through writing and design, and understanding where in the world he stands through the study of politics and theology. 

Through all of those activities, on campus and abroad, he is further exploring his heritage — and contemplating its significance. 

“Having conversations with friends and thinking about what my ethnicity and culture mean has made me appreciate in a fuller sense what being Hispanic is all about,” said Benavides, a native of Corpus Christi, Texas. “It wasn’t until I arrived here for the first time that I really had to grapple with my identity as a Latino. I am very grateful to Notre Dame for that perspective.”

A second family 

If it wasn’t for the Institute for Latino Studies, Benavides wouldn’t have come to Notre Dame. 

He visited campus as part of the interview process for the Latino Studies Scholar Program (LSSP), a merit-based, leadership scholarship that trains high-achieving students and future leaders to help empower Latino communities. After going to classes, touring campus, and staying in St. Edward’s Hall, he saw the Grotto on the final night of his visit.

Benavides London

Benavides in London, where he interned at a Catholic magazine as part of an eight-week summer abroad program through the Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy.

“I knew at that point that this was the start of a big chapter in my life,” he said. “I had never dreamt about going to Notre Dame — until that weekend.” 

Part of the inaugural LSSP cohort, Benavides said the students, faculty, and staff connected to ILS have become like family to him and helped him to further explore his heritage through academic programs and social events.

“The Latino Studies Scholars Program makes me happy that this place is so committed to broadening the Latino community,” he said. “I always know I have people there to fall back onto.”

“Even if my future endeavors do not pertain directly to the topics I’ve studied here at Notre Dame, my classes have helped me develop skills that will certainly be of great value to me in any career or graduate school. From thinking critically to writing persuasively, Arts and Letters truly offers a holistic education.”

Connecting communications and theology

A political science major with minors in theology, digital marketing, and journalism, ethics, and democracy, Benavides has spent the past two summers exploring the ways his academic interests intersect in professional settings.

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Benavides in Washington, D.C., during his internship with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The summer after his first year, Benavides worked as an intern for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C., an opportunity that was set up and funded through ILS’ Cross-Cultural Leadership Program.

He primarily helped prepare for the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry, a national conference that was the culmination of four years of conversations in Catholic parishes across the country about how to reach Latino parishioners and strengthen the ways in which they serve the Church.

During his internship, Benavides spent his mornings working on communications efforts, from designing newsletters to registering VIPs for the conference. In the afternoons, he was drafting devotional handbooks, thinking critically about what certain passages would mean to the Latino community.

“I saw how the Church operates at a national level and how my studies can turn into a career,” he said. “It was neat blend of my interest in communications and theology.”

This summer, Benavides lived, studied, and published articles in London as part of an eight-week summer abroad program through the Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics, and Democracy.  

As an editorial intern for the Catholic Herald, a London-based Roman Catholic weekly magazine, he published stories covering local Christian rehabilitation programs and detailing why Augustus Tolton, the first African American Catholic priest, should be America’s next patron saint

“Seeing my byline published for the first time was really cool,” he said. 

A flexible future

Back in South Bend, Benavides is using his voice and experience to help shape the campus community.

Lssp First Cohort

The first Latino Studies Scholars Program cohort includes Benavides, Jisel Gomez, Kelly Liang, and Stacy Manrique.

He has served as director of faith and service as well as press secretary and director of communications for Notre Dame Student Government, and was also appointed by Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C., to the Campus Engagement Task Force to listen to students and faculty regarding their views on the clerical abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. 

A member of the Glynn Family Honors Program, Benavides is the Mass chair on the Junior Parents Weekend committee, a member of the Welcome Weekend steering committee, and was co-chair of the 2019 Back the Bend planning committee.

After graduation, Benavides is considering working in communications for a while before attending graduate school. By studying political science, journalism, theology, and a host of other topics he finds interesting, he believes he’s prepared to follow any number of paths in the future.

“Even if my future endeavors do not pertain directly to the topics I’ve studied here at Notre Dame, my classes have helped me develop skills that will certainly be of great value to me in any career or graduate school,” he said. “From thinking critically to writing persuasively, Arts and Letters truly offers a holistic education.”

Originally published by Ashley Lo at al.nd.edu on January 21, 2020.