For 25 years, students of color across Washington state’s two-year colleges have been convening annually for the Students of Color Conference (SOCC). The one-of-a kind event draws in over 800 students and connects 34 colleges over the span of three days, with the aim to leave students with a greater sense of identity and awareness of others. Students also develop professional and personal skills and are introduced to social justice and social activism.
“It gives us something that we can call our own, where we can see where are more alike than different, where we can collaborate and network and bring back to our school the new ideas we learned,” says Shennetta Smith, a student at Evergreen State College.
SOCC co-chair Jodie Collins says the event “offers a space for all of us to come together where it’s expected to talk about critical conversations, so students all walk in knowing its purposeful and build students skills.”
The conference that happened this year in April had the theme “Moments to Movements” to show that it takes many students coming together to make such a conference happen. The event represented many coming together collectively to celebrate everything that has happened within the timeframe that the students have lived in, the past 25 years.
The event hosted three keynote speakers, all from different backgrounds to expose students to different communities and how communities intersect. In particular, Lydia Brown did a keynote titled, “From Self to System: Why Every Movement Needs Disability Justice.” Brown’s keynote brought to light a much needed discussion on ableism and overall the violence against multiply-marginalized disabled people. this sparked conversations afterward as to how our schools are and making sure we are accessible to all students.
Among the many activities, over 40 workshops were hosted throughout the three days.
Una Kaihauholani, a student at South Seattle College attended a Pacific Islander caucus. “I don’t see that many Pacific Islanders in higher education, especially that many staff, so it really empowered me that there was a lot more of us out there to support one another,” Kaihauholani says.
Students were also given the opportunity to present workshops. Phi-Khanh Nguyen, student commissioner at the Gender Equity Center at South Seattle College presented a workshop titled, “Sisterhood.” The workshop engaged female-identified students with the understanding of how society pits women among each other as competition and provided follow-up steps for students to challenge sexism and misogyny.
Also this year, a new internship program was implemented. Three students who formerly attended SOCC came back to develop the program this year: Pedro Marquez, Seattle Central Central; Charlyn Garcia, University of Washington; and Geomarc Panelo, University of Washington.
“I came back to do it from a different perspective,” Garcia says. There are different dimensions to this conference. … Now I have the skills to help others in different ways to empower other students.”
For Marquez, it was personal. “My goal is to work with youth of color and anyone marginalized, and get them to realize how powerful knowledge is,” Marquez says.
Looking toward the future, inspired by SOCC, Marquez has plans to pursue a masters in social work and attend law school to help youth of color.
Plans are already underway for next year’s SOCC. Collins hopes to develop a second year track for students to have a further analyses of topics from previous years. More information about the conference can be found at mssdc.com/socc.php.