This blog post was written by Rachel Gomez ’20 and Griselda Vasquez ’22.
Along with Samantha Galindo ’20 and Anastacia Tristan ’20, we packed our bags and headed to New Jersey for the LATINX LEADS Student Leadership Conference.
LATINX LEADS held its first Student Leadership Conference in Jersey City, N.J., in February. The goal: to become the largest national gathering of Latinx student leaders and campus-based advisors to address the most critical topics of diversity and social justice challenging the Latinx community in colleges and universities. Stepping into the conference, a sense of home settled within us, with faint Hispanic music playing and loud laughter occasionally rising through conversations being held in both Spanish and English. Sweet Briar is a predominantly white institution, thus, being a student of Hispanic/Latinx descent, it is hard to talk to classmates who don’t share the same cultural background.
Latinx was started in the spring semester of 2017 to dismantle that barrier, with the mission to promote community and generate interest in Hispanic and Latin American cultural diversity on campus. The club is open to everyone on campus and there are members who represent Mexican, Peruvian, Puerto Rican and Salvadorian descent. In this room, various Hispanic/Latinx club members and campus leaders were gathered; the names and emblems of their 15 different colleges and universities were shown on the presentation slides.
“Do you know who you are?” keynote speaker Cecilia Ramirez asked. She explained that we’re constantly told to overcome adversity by checking off boxes: graduate high school, go to college, get an internship, get a job. But that’s only the beginning. “Overcoming is just arriving at the life you should have been given to start with,” she said, adding: “Get through what you have to get through, but don’t stop there.”
Ramirez had her epiphany of who she truly was when she learned that the Hispanic and Latinx community derived from Mother Africa due to the Trans-Atlantic Exchange. This taught her that there was so much we don’t know about ourselves. She was taught that science proved that trauma from our ancestors has been passed down through generations. However, she questioned if greatness was passed down as well and what greatness was passed down when we were born. What ancestors passed down their greatness of being doctors, engineers, kings, queens? We can’t continue checking off boxes while unknowingly holding this within us, she said.
Ramirez ended her message by saying, “You are royalty, you come from greatness. You have got to know who you are. What will you do when you realize who you are?”
The central focus of the conference was identity. There were workshops and discussion groups to facilitate conversation and self-reflection and help us develop an understanding of Latinidad. We also received information on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
During our first workshop, the terms “Age,” “Religion,” “Immigration Status,” “Ability/Disability,” “Sexual Orientation,” “Socioeconomic Status” and “Gender” were marked along the walls. We were given statements that allowed us to identify which identity was most related and partook in small discussions. We later zoned down to the question of “What part of your identity do you most struggle to talk about with people who identify differently?” This activity not only allowed us to talk about our many identities, our perceptions of our identities, and discuss the way others perceive our identities, but also practice vulnerability and empathy.
The SGA Leadership Fund gave us the opportunity to travel to New Jersey to take part in the LATINX LEADS conference and represent Sweet Briar College. LATINX LEADS allowed us to surround ourselves with empowered people. The spark was ignited to continue to share our stories, to become better leaders, and to be Sweet Briar Fierce.
Want to get involved in Sweet Briar’s clubs — or start your own? Learn more at sbc.edu/student-life.
Did you know that every Sweet Briar student is eligible for up to $2,000 to fund research, travel to conferences, study abroad and more? Learn more about our Grants for Engaged Learning.
Rachel Gomez is a junior mathematics major from Dallas, Texas. She is president of Latinx, treasurer for the Black Student Alliance, Inter-club Council secretary and a member of two tap clubs.
Griselda Vasquez is a first-year student and engineering science major from Faber, Va.