For 27 ambitious and eager students of South Puget Sound Community College, the weekend of April 14-16 was a life changing experience. On a sunny morning at seven am, the group gathered together at the Diversity and Equity Center to board vans headed to the 21st annual Students of Color Conference (SOCC) in Yakima, Washington.
The motto for this year’s conference was “Stand Up, Speak out: Education IS Liberation!”
The Students of Color Conference is held annually for students of every background or identity from many community colleges and universities around the state to come together to celebrate and discuss diversity issues in many different contexts.
Students come for different reasons: make new friends, connect with old ones, share their perspectives with people who identify with their cultures or identity, and discuss issues that many of us students from varying backgrounds face every day.
“I liked the feeling of being comfortable and not pressured to be anything but myself,” said Megan Nord. “I walked away with more knowledge about cultural identity and friends in similar situations.”
All of the students were selected through a process led by diversity director Eileen Yoshina and Jay Wainman, senator for diversity and equity affairs.
“Students were chosen based on their interest in campus activities, who had experience or were beginning to demonstrate self-awareness and respect for other cultures and behaviors,” said Yoshina.
Yoshina found that the conference worked because awareness is raised for themselves or other people, “[SOCC] inspires people to do more for themselves or their community,” Yoshina said.
Personal, academic, and community experiences were brought to the table for students to problem-solve, develop leadership skills, and create campus and community action plans.
For the first night students gathered in racial, ethnic, and/or cultural caucuses to develop and connect with other students from the same group. It was comforting and nice to be with people who understood the sometimes repetitive, funny, and frustrating stereotypes and issues we face on a daily basis.
The other sessions that followed discussed issues from awareness of others, skills development, social justice, social activism, and personal development.
“Many students come back empowered, and confident to tackle many difficult issues and stand up to leadership roles on campus,” Yoshina said.
On the second night, after a full day of discussing important issues, the students were able to let loose and get to know each other at the dance.
“After a day of discussing all these hot topics, it was nice to get down, and not think about them for a bit,” said another student Danny Salas.
The weekend itself was inspiring, provided a wealth of learning opportunities, resources and support for all the students that attended.
I went into this conference thinking I’d been to others before and that it wouldn’t expand my mind as much as it did.
Each student came into the conference with different expectations and each walked away with something life-changing.
The conference brought together students of varying backgrounds and identities with other students who understood their culture and empowered them to get more involved in their respective cultures or identity groups.