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Park St.

An innovative class gets Trinity students closely involved with the College's nearby neighbors and requires them to use the latest in communication technology.

By Jim Smith

Inside Trinfo Café on Broad Street, just off the Trinity campus, teams of students cluster around computers, talking excitedly in Spanish. They are participants in Trinity’s “Hispanic Studies 280: Hispanic Hartford” course. And under the watchful eye of Professor Tom Harrington, they are brainstorming about their final projects, due in about a month.

They are not composing conventional “term papers,” though. Like the course and the facility where they are working this afternoon—the Smart Neighborhood outpost Trinity created in 1999 to bring Internet technology and training to Hartford residents—Harrington’s final assignment is a model of educational innovation. It’s all electronic.

The Hispanic world in Trinity’s backyard

The Hispanic Hartford course, introduced three years ago, was inspired by a surprising, and almost accidental discovery. Near the end of a semester, several of Trinity’s faculty members in the Department of Modern Languages and Literature (now the Department of Language and Culture Studies) hosted a group of students for lunch on Park Street. It was over empanadas and arroz con gandules that the professors learned that the students, mostly seniors, had seldom spent time on Hartford’s vibrant east-west thoroughfare that is the only Hispanic commercial marketplace in New England.

“They had traveled to Spain, Argentina, Chile, but never to the Hispanic world in their backyard,” says Professor Anne Lambright, one of Harrington’s colleagues. “We thought that, at the very least, Hispanic studies majors should know the Hispanic community around them.”

Hartford, Lambright observed, is “the most Hispanic city north of Florida and east of the Mississippi, and the only state capital with a Hispanic mayor.” In fact, fully 40 percent of Hartford’s residents are Hispanic. And contrary to the impression of many non-Hispanic residents, greater Hartford’s Hispanic population is not simply of Puerto Rican origin. As Harrington’s students discovered this year, it comprises a host of ethnicities, with substantial communities of people from Peru, Honduras, Cuba, Chile, Mexico, and Colombia.

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