Renowned Latino Speaker To Be Featured in Interactive Seminar

Michael Benitez, Latino educator and speaker, headlines this years Hispanic Heritage Month activities as keynote speaker Sept. 30 via Webex. Photo courtesy of Student Activities

By C. Aileen Blaine

Michael Benitez, Latino educator and speaker, headlines this years Hispanic Heritage Month activities as keynote speaker Sept. 30 via Webex. Photo courtesy of Student Activities

The pandemic may have rained on the usual events for Hispanic Heritage Month, but also made it possible for Youngstown State University to feature Michael Benitez, a renowned Latino educator, as a keynote speaker. Organizers of the event are excited to have him, due to his engaging and interactive delivery style.  

Alicia Prieto, associate professor of Mathematics and Statistics and member of the Hispanic Heritage Planning Committee, said she’s enthusiastic to have Benitez speak to the community and YSU.

“I’d seen [his lectures] before….and thought he was amazing,” Prieto said. “It’s nice when somebody comes in and doesn’t just talk to you….but they actually reflect and think about what you’re saying to them. That’s what’s great.”

Prieto said Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations will look different this year. There are typically two main events presented by YSU to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, but due to the pandemic, the Benitez event will be the only major event offered.

Prieto said one of the things that may be enhanced by the online delivery is the interactivity of the lecture via such features as chat boxes, unmuted mics and polls. The plan is to have two speaking events: one open to the public and one open to students. She said she hopes Latinos in the community will know YSU is welcoming. 

Ana Torres, Maag Library co-director, said arrangements for Hispanic Heritage month typically begin many months in advance, but uncertainties surrounding the pandemic forced in-person events such as presentations with guest speakers to be canceled. That includes the Hispanic Celebration, typically held in Kilcawley Center.

“We felt it was important to continue with some programming in a different form via virtual platforms,” Torres said. 

Carol Bennett, associate provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, connected Benitez to the university in January. Bennett said the seminar will focus on diversity and Hispanic inclusivity, as well as Latino identity and gender. One of the topics to be discussed is the dismantling of Latino stereotypes.

“We say Latino, Latina–but what does that mean?” Bennet said. She also said she hopes Benitez’s seminar will help others gain an understanding of how culture and identity are more than titles.

“I am hoping individuals will be inspired by Dr. Benitez as he is a young voice in an established area,” Bennett said.

“We think that Dr. Benitez is the ideal person to engage and lead the students and the campus community in the overdue conversation regarding the complexities of identity formation, especially within the LatinX culture,” Torres said. 

As for future events like this, Torres said she hopes there will be more.

“It is important to bring to campus and the community speakers like Dr. Benitez, who are experienced in facilitating difficult conversations and who can share with us tools and strategies to help us move towards better understanding,” Torres said.

The seminar will be held via Webex Sept. 30. A student meet-and-greet will begin at 3 p.m., and the lecture will take place from 4:30-6 p.m. Registration is available at

Student Activities promoted keynote speaker Michael Benitez in its newsletter earlier this month.

The event is possible with the combined efforts of members of the Hispanic Heritage Planning Committee and the YSU Office of Student Activities Diversity Programs.