The annual Student of Color Conference caters to students of color at community and technical colleges all over the state. Applications for the 26th annual conference in Yakima are open now. The conference lasts from April 21 to April 23 and applications are due online by 5 p.m. March 4.
Aaron Reader, the director of multicultural services, has been attending the conference since 2007. Reader said that each time he goes to a conference it is a learning experience and that every year is different as the planning team evolves. Reader is serving as a co-chair for the upcoming conference. Previously he attended as an adviser and chaperone.
The conference originally began in the 1990s due to efforts of administrators of multicultural services around the state. Reader said the conference is a place where issues of race, culture and ethnicity are raised and taught about.
When students arrive at the hotel where the conference is held, they select an identity caucus depending on which of the ones available they most identify with. Reader emphasized the importance of this, and said that students have to “learn about their own culture first.”
Later on, they can choose other caucuses which they would like to learn more about. After that, there are workshops available for them to choose from, where they can learn leadership skills and about actions that can be taken. Additionally, there is a personal development segment, which includes daily keynote speakers.
Returning students have developed as leaders and seek an issue to advocate for, according to Reader. He mentioned that there is a new opportunity this year for an advanced session with workshops that go more in depth.
Henry Amaya, the assistant director of multicultural services, has been accompanying students to the conference for the past six years.
Amaya said he felt represented at past conferences, during which there were “vibrant discussions on discrimination.”
Amaya said that the American education system had not been created to educate students of color historically, so the conference aims to address those issues and inform students. “You can only advocate for yourself if you’re aware of yourself,” he said.
At the conference students learn how to advocate, organize and educate, and Amaya usually debriefs students after the event to ask them what they plan to do in the future. “Education is about learning and then taking action,” said Amaya.
He explained that students of color often feel unique or isolated in identity, but systems of oppression affect everyone. He noticed that over the course of the conference, “students also come to understand how oppression affects other people.”
Students after the conference are “definitely more aware of themselves,” said Amaya, describing the conference as an “eye opening, tremendous experience.”
Amaya said that “everybody learns something” at the conference, which “allows people to realize ‘hey, I’m part of the problem.’”
Systems of oppression that often go unseen are made evident at the conference. A variety of workshops on several topics, including self esteem, respect, and awareness are available to students that attend. “Social issues change […]sometimes we need a little reminder.” said Amaya. “We are all in the process of learning.”
“I believe education is one of the greatest tools of awareness,” Amaya said. He added that people have to be aware of the plight that others go through, and that the conference allows a setting for open discussion and analysis. “Learning is about changing,” said Amaya. “As people of color we have to unite. We have to allow ourselves to learn from others.”
Amaya believes that it’s important that those who are aware of and involved with the conference make sure it continues. He said that BC provides opportunities, support and funding. “Dr. Rule supports a lot of these efforts,” Amaya said, “I think that’s magnificent.”