The Student of Color Conference

Photograph by Ankober Yewondwossen

Exactly 30 Bellevue College representatives (faculty and students alike) were loaded into charter busses at 8:30 in the morning, with advisors Aaron Reader, Donna Miguel, Dr. Ata Karim, Faisal Jaswal and Sarah Foster. They were attending the Students of Color Conference, which has earned national recognition. It is cited as the first of its kind in the U.S. due to its focuson multi-cultural competency.

On the bus, BC students all gathered to create a chant, which every other school will also produce as sort of a bird call, and an act of pride. Thanks to a student named Fasil, who brought along his boom-box, Bellevue College entered Yakima’s Red Lion Hotel conference room, surely making a notable impression, as the chant was coupled with an old-school 90s classic by the artist Genuine.

Although BC students may not have been as loud as say, Olympic College, they, like every other community college in the Pacific Northwest were heavily involved in the cognitive spiraling and activities of the weekend.

The conference (now entering its 22nd year) is focused upon increasing one’s diversity awareness and competency. Every student is greeted with a booklet, a nametag and a T-shirt. Inside the booklet is the itinerary every student can choose from (such as certain workshops and student gatherings) and required arrangements, (such as keynote speakers, personal ethnic identity workshops, and meal schedules). There were 17 guidelines addressed in the booklet to help each student fully explore, embrace and reflect whatever perspective they have garnered during the three-day stay. The guidelines were as follows: “Be yourself, have a support system, experience fear, know it’s ok to make mistakes, to self-love, educate others, experience growing pains, do the right thing, trust your integrity, feel guilt, work within your world, demonstrate respect, deal with diversity daily, educate yourself, become angry, experience anxiety, and feel empowerment.”

The conference is guided by five main themes: identity development, awareness of others, skills development, social justice and activism, social justice and social activism and personal development.

The first keynote speaker was a Latina woman named Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson who stressed the vitality of reading one’s history and knowing one’s history. She called the acquiescence of knowledge “historical ammunition,” fuel which individuals may implement to understand common themes which exist in this day and age.

The first day every student gathered with like-identifying ethnic groups. The groups ranged from Pacific Islander to White to African Diaspora (first generation American-born Africans, or U.S. living African-born people who identify as American and African). That night closed with an open mic night, and a curfew of 2:00 a.m.

The next two days were filled with workshops catering towards the awareness of others and heightening personal skills as well as social activism. Workshops offered included skills potential parents could use to raise children with positive cultural self esteem and what to do when you’ve been stopped by the police.

Jovonna Vaughn from Shoreline Community College commented on the awareness of others workshop segment. She was part of the “Pasifika: First Peoples of the Blue Continent” where she learned about the Pacific Islander culture. “It was one of the most interactive workshops; we learned about traditional chants, and songs and values, and also how to greet people in a way that was intimate without being creepy: A word was Haffa-aday, which means ‘what’s good’, like literally, ‘what’s good!”

Students who are interested in attending the Students of Color Conference next year should contact Multi-Cultural Services.