By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–The 21st annual Indiana Latinx Leadership Conference lit up campus on Saturday, February 29 with a full slate of workshops, presentations and activities to build Latinx self-awareness and empowerment.
This was the first time the conference was held at IU Southeast–or south of Bloomington, for that matter–and faculty advisors Veronica Medina, associate professor of sociology and Jennifer Ortiz, assistant professor of criminology & criminal Justice, led a team of committed volunteers to ensure a memorable moment in the life of the campus.
Chancellor Dr. Ray Wallace welcomed 226 attendees representing 16 counties in Indiana and two in Kentucky, noting that IU Southeast’s Latinx enrollment has increased by nearly 65% in the past decade.
“We grow and evolve as a university through seeing equality and representation as a goal and human right for everybody,” Wallace said. “We are committed to recruiting students from diverse populations and to making the climate and curriculum welcoming and equitable.”
Keynote speaker Kat Lazo vowed to make the attendees “uncomfortable,” with a conversation about expanding the definition of Latinx, interspersed with examples of racist barriers and behaviors culled from daily life, before challenging the audience to define and embrace their own Latinx identity.
Attendees took part in 15 workshops on topics both scholarly and social, ranging from the Conocimiento Principle of common unity through shared awareness to an exploration of building affirmative queer spaces, and from climate change to navigating careers in healthcare.
Special sessions, including one hosted by IU Southeast planning committee members Leslie Venzor, Dilia Perez and Ruby Delgado on the importance of campus involvement, were devoted to assisting Latinx students through the maze of higher education.
Musical performances by the ensembles Appalatin, A-Corde and Latin Grammy-nominated Mariachi Herencia de Mexico suffused the staid surroundings with pulsing rhythms and a blaze of joyful sound.
“This conference is empowering and educating our community, which is what IU Southeast is all about,” Wallace said.
The event demonstrated that “community” should be interpreted broadly. Attendees included 30 high school students from Goshen, Indiana and representatives from Frankfort High School in Indianapolis, as well as college students from IU Bloomington, IU Kokomo, IUPUI, Ivy Tech, Purdue University, University of Louisville, University of Southern Indiana and Indiana State University.
“This really is a statewide gathering,” Medina said.
That glimpse of the scope of the Latinx community is one of the conference’s goals, as students often don’t realize the importance of their own presence.
For Dennis Vera, a graduate student at IU Bloomington, the workshops did a good job of addressing topics that are rarely discussed within the Latinx community, like the fetishization of Latinx women or non-heteronormative identity.
“This is the only place to discuss these topics,” Vera said. “It feels so empowering when you are surrounded by people who are confident and validating.”
Vivianna Brown, also a graduate student from IU Bloomington, originally hails from Texas, where Latinx culture is a greater influence in life. For her, the gathering provided a reassuring and encouraging demonstration of presence.
“The most important aspect [of the conference] is fostering a sense of community,” Brown said. The conference is the perfect opportunity to remind myself that we’re here.”
Medina was encouraged by support from both campus and community, with 15 IU Southeast units, offices and departments contributing, as well as the IU Office of the Bicentennial and the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs.
Community supporters included Duke Energy, Caesars Foundation of Floyd County, First Harrison Bank and Safeguard Print and Promo.
“In all, we felt we cultivated a positive atmosphere that showcased our beautiful campus, celebrated the diversity of our attendees, raised awareness about issues that affect their communities, and inspired students to keep dreaming out loud,” Medina said.
Please click on images in the gallery below for impressions from the conference:
Homepage photo: Members of IU Southeast’s IU Latinx Leadership Conference planning committee welcome attendees.