In a weekend of thought-provoking workshops, caucuses, and protests, a delegation of approximately 100 undergraduate and graduate students from the University of California, Santa Barbara, led by Student Commission for Racial Equality (SCORE) officers Hani Tajsar and Angelica Cano, attended the 25th Annual Student of Color Conference (SOCC). The conference, held at UC Los Angeles from Nov. 15 to Nov. 17, was hosted by the University of California Student Association (UCSA). All nine undergraduate Universities of California had delegations that attended, and so did some unaffiliated universities, such as Arizona State University.
The opening ceremony, held on Saturday in Pauley Pavilion, included performances by a few UCLA student groups and speakers such as Chancellor Gene Block and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. UC President Janet Napolitano was invited to speak but declined, citing a prior engagement with her family as reason. Instead, she recorded a video that was played at the opening ceremony. In protest of Napolitano’s presence, some students walked out of the ceremony.
Although much of the delegation consisted of students attending the conference for the first time, some returnees—myself included—were displeased by the choice of speakers at the conference. We felt that as students of color, we couldn’t relate to them, or that they “failed to encompass the conference’s spirit,” as was the sentiment for second-year College of Creative Studies biology major Scott Hannah.
Once the opening ceremony ended, we began our busy day, which included three workshops, an Action, and caucus space for race and ethnicity. The workshops encompassed many topics, such as representations of brown and black bodies in hip hop, deconstructing the same-sex marriage debate, gentrification, Wal-Mart, and Napolitano as the new UC president.
The first workshop I attended, “I Don’t Have A Checkbox,” was about South Asian self-identification. This workshop, hosted by UC Irvine student Saloni Shah, was an excellent space that spawned some fantastic discussions concerning South Asian identity and how it is viewed by non-South Asians and the media. SCORE officer Prabhjot Singh agreed, saying that this workshop was her favorite.
“[I] learned a lot and was able to connect with my community,” Singh said.
Once the first round of workshops ended, we were free for lunch. Then came time for the Action, a protest centered around UCSA’s campaign, IGNITE (“Invest in Graduation Not Incarceration, Transform Education”). IGNITE focuses on legislative solutions that will reduce the prison population and increase prevention, rehabilitation, and reentry, while dismantling the school to prison pipeline, in order to create a diversity pipeline. We marched through the streets of Westwood, toting signs, noisemakers, and call-and-response chants. UCSB student Mohsin Mirza, second-year sociology major, said that he thought the structure of the March sent a very powerful message.
“It addressed the most important issues that face our state,” said Mizra, “the lack of access to and funding for our higher education systems and the racist and expensive mass incarceration of primarily people of color.”
After the Action, the delegation attended their choice of workshops and race/ethnicity caucuses. Alongside UCSB student Navkiran Kaur, I facilitated the South Asian caucus. This was my first time ever facilitating a space, and I found it both challenging and rewarding. I was thankful for the opportunity to take such an active role in helping people learn from one another by discussing the issues that are important to me, such as anti-Black sentiment in South Asian communities.
The final round of workshops and caucuses were held on Sunday. I, along with other UCSB students Anisha Ahuja, Tara Atrian, and Prabhjot Singh, facilitated a workshop called “Decolonizing the Textbook,” about the misrepresentation of South Asian history in schools and textbooks. This was the highlight of my SOCC experience because I had the opportunity to learn about a topic I care deeply about and to destroy incorrect preconceived notions on South Asian history.
After the workshops were the Gender and Sexuality caucuses. UCSB second-year physiology major Adam Melgoza attended the queer caucus. Melgoza found the caucus to be an eye-opening experience about the climate of the queer community on other university campuses.
“I am interested in researching what is ‘working’ for other UCs that our campus doesn’t have already,” said Melgoza. “Hopefully I can find a way to implement that here.”
Once lunch was over, attendees were given the chance to facilitate caucuses on topics they felt weren’t covered in the conference. Topics ranged from discussions on natural hair to the intersectionality of spirituality and queerness. I attended the caucus on Sikhs Post-9/11, facilitated by Kaur and fellow UCSB student Prince Singh, which fostered a great discussion on solidarity between different religious communities in South Asia in a post-9/11 world.
The closing ceremony of the conference was deeply emotional and moving. After stunning performances by a spoken word artist and UCLA’s Kyodo Taiko group, undocumented students and students who have been affected by Napolitano’s past regarding undocumented immigrants came up to speak against Napolitano and her position as the new UC President. This was done in response to Napolitano’s video shown at the beginning of the conference. Many other students came down to the floor of Collins Court and formed a protective circle around the speakers to show their solidarity.
Both before and after the closing ceremony, UCSB had campus breakout meetings to discuss the positive and negative aspects of the conference. Although students brought up problems with the conference, most students found the conference to be a success. Many students said that they hope to attend the conference again next year, and that they learned quite a lot. First-time attendee Jesus Orozco said he learned a lot that he wanted to take back to campus.
“I certainly want womyn of color issues to be more prevalent,” said Orozco. “I feel that men, especially those with a patriarchal/heteronormative mindset, have a lot to learn and should be more willing to ally themselves to these issues, not for the sake of womyn, but for the sake of humanity and the preservation of safe spaces for our future generations.”