Over the years, I have seen a growing movement toward equal opportunity and higher education take place here among students at UC Irvine. People are starting to realize that our universities see a low acceptance rate of students of color and peaceful protests are met with force and violence from the police; more money is invested toward incarcerating people, rather than educating them. These trends and observations were just a few of the issues discussed at the recent UC Student Association Student of Color Conference.
This annual event was created for the purpose of uniting UC students of all backgrounds to come together and address issues of structural and cultural inequalities. This was more or less the description I had heard prior to deciding to attend the conference, and even then, I was unsure of what to expect from such an event.
When I applied to be on the Irvine delegation, I was under the impression that this would simply be a place to celebrate culture and diversity. It sounded like a cool idea so I figured “why not?”
I could not have been more wrong.
Before you jump the gun and start to assume that I did not enjoy my time at SOCC, let me just say that my weekend at the SOCC was one of the most fun and memorable experiences I have ever had. This was partly due to the fact that we were able to see and show an appreciation of culture through the different events and workshops that were showcased. Students who attended were not only treated to entertainment in the form of Latin dancing, but were also able to partake in several workshops that taught dance styles such as salsa, Tai Chi and the traditional Vietnamese form. One of my own personal highlights of the conference was joining in to dance with a massive crowd of other students in a Native American Bird Song.
Though it certainly was a cool experience, it was more than just heading out for a weekend to commemorate the different customs and lifestyles we share- the conference was meant to provide students of color with a safe space to share with each other the struggles we face and discuss the issues that in most other places are too often swept under the rug. In a society where prejudice and stereotypes are still very much prominent in the media and even in day to day encounters, we as students of color must often grin and bear these instances of micro-aggression lest we be accused of staring up trouble for deciding to speak up.
The SOCC, on the other hand, furnished for us a sense of security to be able to talk of these experiences and allowed us to come face-to-face with these issues and expose them as products of racist sentiments.
In addition to being able to hear from other students, we were able to choose from a variety of workshops and seminars that ranged from topics like sex and the stereotypes used to objectify different cultures to the Prison Industrial Complex. One of the most memorable occasions from the conference, the seminar brought to light many startling statistics that exhibited how the prison system is designed to detain a higher percentage of people of color, despite the fact that arrests made throughout each year mainly comprise of Caucasian males (75 percent to be exact).
To quote political activist Angela Davis, “education is a much better alternative to incarceration,” but the fact that California spends more money on putting people in jail under faulty “zero tolerance policies” than on the education necessary to encourage success in inner cities and other crucial areas. Given that the prison system itself relies on such unjust proportions, it is it really a surprise why people of color will so often be more stigmatized as criminals or thugs than as leaders? This seminar was one of my favorites from the conference, but it was just one among the many subjects that on which we were educated.
Reflecting back on my experience, I can say that I feel privileged for the opportunity to have been able to attend and learn so much, but to say that I enjoyed my time there would be true only to a certain degree. While I did enjoy my learning experience and getting to meet with other UC students, I cannot deny that the issues discussed incited anger and frustration, as well as feelings of discomfort, toward the obstacles that stand in the way of progress. In spite of this, I am 100 percent grateful that I had decided to attend the conference, for without the knowledge to invoke such discomfort and rage I would not have the passion I have now to want to create a change. My only regret is that I had not participated sooner so I would definitely suggest, to those of you who plan on being here next fall, that you take advantage of this opportunity to learn and take part in the issues affecting both your education and community.
Filed Under: Features