Since 1990 there has been a Students of Color Conference in Washington which is one of its kind on the university level. This conference occurs in the Spring and is put on by Washington’s Multicultural Student Services. The council aims to “expand the opportunities and possibilities for students to become agents of change.” (http://www.mssdc.com/socc.php) through a conference focussed on cultural identity and the issues that people have within themselves and society. The conference has five pillars, Identity, Awareness of Others, Skill Development, Social Justice and Social Activism, and Personal Development. Throughout this year’s conference keynote speeches were given to the students by Olmeca, Aneelah Afzali, and Anida Yoeu Ali. Through workshops in these five areas and listening to the speeches, students leave each conference with more knowledge about themselves, and the people and world around them.
A state council with members from each of the 34 community and technical colleges in Washington as well as a smaller SOCC planning committee run this conference with the goal of supporting Washington State students so that they may more actively shape their education and life choices.
This year, the first keynote speaker of the conference was Olmeca, a Hip Hop artist/producer who grew up in the barrios of L.A. and Mexico. This upbringing impacted his music, which he writes blending not only music genres, but also languages by using bilingual Hip Hop/Latin alternative songs. “While everyday people respect his lyrical content, music connoisseurs value the production, and educators utilize Olmeca’s music in their classrooms”(SOCC program). With his social commentary, community efforts, and ability to intersect various demographics, Olmeca is not only an artist, but a university lecturer, as he does guest lectures along with keynote speeches in universities across the United States. Olmeca started his time in front of the students with a short performance of his work, singing on stage with the corresponding music video playing on two large screens. In his speech Olmeca spoke about recognizing the contributions of people of color to the United States, the connected narrative between the races within the US, how to constructively disrupt the mainstream narrative, and the legacy which students of color will leave behind. His speech was one of unity, movement, and understanding with the final note to students that they “are entitled to change things that aren’t right”.
The first day of the conference is devoted to Identity, there where two sessions devoted to this subject, one with a variety of different identities to choose from, such as Men’s, Women’s, Muslim, Students with Disabilities, etc. and the second devoted to students cultural origins. These sessions were all about picking which group you felt represented yourself and your upbringing best and the groups spanned backgrounds from across the globe with groups for origins from almost every continent.
The second session was on Awareness of Others and was all about learning about other people. There were fourteen options for this session so students were bound to find a group that met their interests and backgrounds. This session was focussed on students gaining understanding about the people around them so that they left the conference with a more complete view of the world around them.
The second Keynote speech of this years conference was given by Aneelah Afzali. Along with being the founder and Executive Director of the American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN), Aneelah Afzali serves on on the board of the Faith Action Network and on the Steering Committee of the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network. She was also honored with the Excellence in Diversity Award from the Washington State bar association for her work in law. She is an attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School, though two years ago she took a break from her career to focus on service and knowledge. Her speech centered on Radical Law and the widespread effects of Islamophobia and the importance of combating it.
Aneelah Afzali started with explaining to the students the hurdles which she had to go through in life as a Muslim as well as a woman. She urged students to understand the interconnected struggle of people and how an issue which seems focussed on a singular group can have widespread effects throughout multiple communities. The issue she spent a large portion of her time on was Islamophobia, going in depth on the history of Islam in the U.S., the effects which impact more than the Islamic community, and ways which people can combat it in their everyday lives.
In Skill Development there were workshops surrounding developing Cross-Cultural Communication and Skills and how to apply them to the students interactions with other people, the world, and within themselves. The workshops in this session surrounded ideas like “intercultural competence”, liberating your mind, and reclaiming the narrative of who you are.
The session devoted to Social Justice and Social Activism included seventeen workshops on how to make change in the world around students as well as within themselves.
Currently serving as an Artist-in Residence at UW, “Anida Yoeu is an artist whose works span performance, installation new media, public encounters, and political agitation. Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to artmaking, her installation and performance works investigate the artistic, spiritual and political collisions of a hybrid transnational identity”(SOCC program). In her speech she wanted to tell students her life from when she was a refugee from Cambodia as a child to her experience as an artist and activist in today's world. Her art is centered around activism and bringing more understanding into the world, and she went in depth into many of her projects throughout her speech. Many of her art pieces over the years have been destroyed so Anida designated a portion of her speech to talking to the students about loss and how to deal with it. She emphasized that you have to move forward from loss, you must grieve and move past it onto the next thing. Towards the end of the speech she told the students that “It’s okay to bury it, it’s okay to leave it behind and move forward”.
The Students of Color Conference is an annual event that Olympic Colleges multicultural center takes parts in. It is an informative, beneficial, and fun experience for the students who participate, and next year you could be one of them. Look forward to next spring and stop by the multicultural center if you are interested in joining them on this trip.