This past weekend, 35 Wesleyan students travelled to Cambridge, Mass., for the 2019 Latina Empowerment and Development (LEAD) Conference. LEAD is an annual two-day event hosted by Latinas Unidas, a Harvard College student organization. Established in 2007, LEAD is designed to promote professional development among college students who identify as Latina.
The trip was organized by Wesleyan’s Latinx student identity group, Ajúa Campos, and was led by ambassadors Shantel Sosa ’21 and Griselda Solis ’21.
“The conference was moving, empowering and honest,” Sosa wrote in an email to The Argus. “The speakers, panelists and attendees made space for one another to allow us to recognize our privilege and our struggles. As Latinas at elite institutions, many of the spaces we navigate at work or in class pose obstacles.”
This year, the theme for the conference was “Leaving a Legacy.” Attendees heard from three keynote speakers and attended various panels and workshops on the topic, such as “The Latina’s Edge: Addressing Your Impostor Syndrome” and “How to Be A Latinx Activist.” The panels focused on providing career advice for specific fields, including medicine and health, law and advocacy, and science and technology. Students were also encouraged to network with other attendees and the speakers themselves. The various speakers offered advice to attendees and reflected on their experience in professional settings.
“The speakers discussed many things in their keynotes and panels,” Sosa explained. ”Everything. From what their daily routine was like, to how being a Latina affected what they do.”
Solis, who also attended the conference in 2018, noted how encouraging it was to hear successful Latinas discuss their careers.
“Last year was the first year that I felt really inspired and felt that I could finally verbalize that I wanted to go to law school,” she said. “Just being in a room of other Latinas who were achieving the same dreams that I had was confirmation and validation that I could also do it.”
While the conference is specifically tailored for college students who identify as Latina, Solis emphasized that not everyone who attended the event identified as a woman. The event was also open to high school students.
“I wish I would have had that opportunity in high school,” Solis said.
Sosa and Solis both agreed that events such as LEAD are extremely valuable for Latinx students.
“We want to integrate the belief that one’s Latinidad [identity] does not hold them back, but rather gives them a unique perspective which allows them to leave a greater impact in the world here at Wesleyan,” Sosa wrote.
“These experiences are shared experiences, and sometimes it can be very daunting to be at a prestigious university and to feel like you’re all alone,” Solis said. “I think that Wesleyan should have its own similar conference.”
As Wesleyan’s ambassadors for the LEAD Conference, Solis and Sosa were responsible for planning the trip to the conference and promoting the event to Wesleyan students. This consisted of hosting information sessions before the conference as well as organizing a résumé-building workshop for attendees. Since each individual must pay a $75 fee to attend the conference, Solis and Sosa also worked to secure funding for financial aid for the event through the Wesleyan Student Assembly’s Student Budget Committee and Wesleyan’s Student Resource Center.
Members of Ajúa Campos highlighted some of the other steps the organization is taking to empower Latinx students at Wesleyan. Later this month, the group will host an event celebrating Afro-Latinidad identities following Dominican Independence Day on Wednesday, Feb. 27. Students also reflected on why Ajúa Campos was important for the Wesleyan community.
“The main thing that I think Ajúa does for Wesleyan Latinx students is bring us together,” conference attendee Annabella Machnizh ’22 said. “The simple moments of unity and acceptance that we find in a room of students who love the same food, music, dance, language, values as you can be all the more empowering,”
Claire Isenegger can be reached at email@example.com.