By: Tatum Larsen
photo by Tatum Larsen
ASUCI and a group of UCI students attended the annual Students of Color Conference (SOCC) at UCLA on Nov. 23 and Nov. 24.
Students were selected by ASUCI based on their responses to a set of application questions. Per the application, SOCC is not intended to be an event for airing out grievances but rather to create active solutions through group collaboration and discussion.
The questions asked students to explain what they hoped to gain from as well as contribute to the wider discussion at the conference so that this could be achieved.
Hundreds of students from the UC system attended the UC Student Association (UCSA), which is one of the oldest and largest student-proctored UC conferences that has been in effect since 1988.
According to UCSA’s official website, the conference is held as an active effort to bring students of color together to “strategize around statewide campaigns and campus actions.”
The first day of the SOCC was comprised of workshops that focused on the implications of being a student of color and systematic social issues. Topics like mass incarceration, coming out as a person of color, anti-blackness in the Asian community and environmental racism were presented.
One of the workshops held during the first day was called “Mass Incarceration” and was led by Amber-Rose Howard. Howard is a Statewide Co-Coordinator and prison reform advocate at Californians United for A Responsible Budget (CURB) Prison Spending.
Founded in 2003, CURB Prison Spending is a statewide coalition of 70 grassroots organizations that work to reduce the number of people in the bloated California prison system. The coalition provides legal assistance for currently and formerly incarcerated people, enacting campaigns for policy change such as the “Fair Chance Hiring” policy and educating the public about the realities of mass incarceration.
“People say that they’re colorblind, but it’s used to cover underlying structures of racism,” said UCLA student Ryan Moon before the workshop began.
This sentiment was echoed in Howard’s presentation on the topic of society’s disregard for and disenfranchisement of incarcerated people of color.
During her presentation, she made a point of referring to incarcerated people as such rather than conforming to the common use of the word “prisoner” or “criminals” to begin the process of curtailing stigma. She stressed that incarcerated people were people before, during and after they exit the prison system, which is why they require more empathy and assistance than they experienced when they entered the prison system.
During the second day, students were given the option to attend three personal identity-focused “Community Learning Sessions.” The thought process behind holding these spaces was to create proactive solutions for the challenges students of color face but also for future generations of students as well. The “Community Learning Sessions” focused on creating collective dialogues about the communities they identify with.
In the Mixed Race session, students came together to speak about topics pertaining to feeling “out of place,” unaccepted or even fetishized as the ideal during a group activity that involved students writing their personal truths like “If You Truly Knew Me” and “If You Were Truly an Ally” on pieces of paper that were hung up around the room.
While UCSA’s intention was to represent a variety of students in the planning of these events, their execution of this intention was called into question at the end of the event by students that felt as though they were not fairly represented.
Before the conference ended, two student organizers of the event came up to the main stage to thank all of the attendees for coming before inviting a group of students who wanted to make some final remarks up to the stage.
After a few moments of silence, about two dozen students from various schools filed on stage and stood behind two UCSB students, Michaela Allen and Daniel Segura, as they spoke about the lack of representation for Indigenous students, as well as other logistical issues, during the conference.
“It is clear to students that there was a serious lack of Indigenous input in the planning of these community sessions, leaving an already marginalized group to feel invisible and unappreciated in this space,” said Allen, who identifies as an Indigenous student.
Allen and Segura also spoke on behalf of students who were displeased by the fact that some workshops and community learning sessions were led by those who did not belong to the particular racial or identity group being discussed. In some cases, it was said that students felt that group discussions were strained as the group leader had very little knowledge about the issues facing the communities being discussed.
The general consensus amongst the students onstage was that the organizers of SOCC should be more inclusive and thoughtful in the planning of future events so that students do not feel excluded as they did this year.
After the conference, ASUCI Representative, Dashay Richmond said that the purpose of the conference was for students to set aside their cultural differences so that they could come together to learn more about themselves and others. However, Richmond recognized that this was not wholly accomplished this year due to logistical reasons.
“With so many identities it’s hard to accommodate everyone yet I understand why some students were upset and felt underrepresented.”
He encourages students who felt underrepresented or disappointed with the turnout of this event to go to the UCSA Board Meetings so that the board can make sure these issues don’t happen next time.
Despite the concerns brought to the forefront this year, Richmond hopes that “people enjoyed themselves and [will] continue to come back.”