The City of Yakima will be hosting this year’s Washington State Community College’s 22nd Annual Student of Color Conference. It will be held from April 19-21. Students who have been selected will leave on a Thursday afternoon and return the coming Saturday. This year, 60 students from Bellevue College have applied, but only 40 people were selected to attend. Due to the extended number of applicants, this is the first year where BC has seen a waiting list for this conference. The conference is run by the MCS (Multicultural Services) Director’s Counsel, in which every community college in Washington has a representative.
“The point of this conference is to raise students’ levels of awareness around race, ethnicity, and social justice – it cannot happen in one weekend, but a lot of students become jolted and inspired to get involved in social activism,” says Aaron Reader, Assistant Director of Multicultural Services at Bellevue College. This will be his sixth year as an advisor for the conference. He also had the task of selecting which students could attend the conference.The conference consists of about 95 percent community college students from around the state. There are 650 students from the Pacific Northwest attending.
Students attending the conference can expect to become well acquainted with their social, ethnic, and cultural identity, as the very first day the workshops consist of caucuses designed for discussions between members who share the same ethnic identity.
“The point is knowing about your own identity, before commenting and understanding others,” said Reader. The afternoon will be closed with an open mic night, where students will be showcasing their special talents of dancing, spoken words, music, etc. “The next day is broken down into a number of sessions, split up throughout the day, such as social justice, personal development, awareness of others, and cross-cultural communication skills,” said Reader. Friday will host workshops discussing various cultural groups such as LGBTQ, bi-racial, African-American, Pacific-Islander, or White. This night ends with the annual dance, which many student look forward to every year.
“It is a very emotionally draining conference, once the bulk of social justice comes about, which asks people to engage in conversations about race,” said Reader.He says he has seen students having difficulties being part of the conversations, then later sees the same student’s awareness and tolerance levels rise the next day. A memorable moment for this particular advisor, which is reiterated every year, is seeing students from the conference develop momentum and inspiration from the conference, to desire actively contributing to social change in their own communities and in their own homes. “It’s rewarding seeing that the inspiration for action was garnered from the conference.”