A group of 23 students left campus this weekend to attend the annual Latina Empowerment and Development Conference (LEAD) in Cambridge, Mass., where they attended various workshops, panels, and speeches.
The event was organized by by Latinas Unidas and held at Harvard University. It focused on supporting Latinx-identifying students of all gender identities and ethnicities in their professional careers. The conference brought together college students, high school students, and residents from the surrounding area.
“LEAD is about empowering Latinas and other minorities who plan on fulfilling leadership and other professional career-oriented paths,” the conference website reads.
Keynote speakers included former Obama White House Aide Alejandra Campoverdi and the first female governor in Mexico, Claudia Pavlovich. Panel events centered on career opportunities, and advice for getting ahead. Workshops focused on specific skills, like interviewing and writing résumés.
Panels discussed Media and Communications, Business and Entrepreneurship, Law and Public Policy, STEM, and Academia. Leading Latina women in these fields engaged with individual attendees, and in some cases offered help.
While the focus of the event was career-oriented, speakers often discussed a more personal message of Latinx empowerment.
“They tell you ‘Hey this is what I did to get here, and you can definitely get here too,’” said Shantel Sosa ’21. “None of the jobs they introduced to me—engineer, doctor—I never thought that was something I would be able to do. I totally see myself pursuing one of these careers, and I’ll have the support system to do that.”
Sosa had also attended the conference during her senior year in high school, and it was formative in her ambitions. This inspired her to galvanize a group of students to attend this year.
“I had the idea of bringing a group of students to come with me because it made a huge difference for me for how I wanted to go through my college experience,” Sosa said. “It doesn’t matter your year, you could make connections that could potentially change your life.”
Sosa worked with Caridad Cruz ’21 to publicize the event through the on-campus Latinx student group Ajùa Campos.
At the event last weekend, speakers and panels addressed the struggles Latinx and other people of color face in their professional careers.
“It’s the words of wisdom from women who’ve been there, who have faced the self-doubt that people like me have and them saying ‘You’re fine,’” Sosa said.
The LEAD conference emphasized collaboration and unity among Latinx people through networking. Organizers asked students to exchange at least five emails and Instagrams from others attending, Sosa said.
The timing of the event made it difficult to obtain funding for travel and conference fees, given that many of Wesleyan’s offices are closed during winter break. This meant Sosa and Cruz had to get creative in collecting money.
Sosa and Cruz used youcaring.com to raise $1000 to cover most of the costs. The group also received a $350 grant from the Office of Equity and Inclusion.
“Because the majority of the students that have expressed interest in attending this conference are first-generation, low-income students, it is imperative that we receive funding for the tickets and transportation to this event,” reads the fundraising page.
Despite the financial support and subsidies, there was still a $35 conference fee.
“We had 10 more people that really wanted to come but couldn’t make it because of the conference fee,” Sosa said. “Which sucks—I got so much out of the conference. It’s not every day you’re able to meet these people.”
The group plans on going next year, but this time acquiring full funding to eliminate the barrier for interested students. It’s a crucial message for Latinx-identifying students, Sosa said.
“There was such an energy,” she emphasized. “This many Latinas in a room.”
Mason Mandell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter as @MasonMandell.