Community and cultural awareness will take center stage on Feb. 29, 2020 when IU Southeast hosts the Latinx Leadership Conference for the first time in its 20-year history.
The ILLC (Indiana Latinx Leadership Conference) committee is planning the conference alongside the planning board of IU Bloomington.
In previous years it was called the “Indiana Latino Leadership Conference.” However, it was changed for the upcoming conference because the word “Latino” is the male suffix for “Latin male” and co-chair Ashley Lopez said the committee wants all genders, non-binary people, and the LGBTQ+ community to feel welcome.
“Latinx is a gender-neutral way to be inclusive of all orientations and gender identities,” Lopez said.
The first conference was held in 1999.
“It’s pretty stressful to be creating systems for this from scratch but everyone involved truly believes that this is meaningful work that will hopefully create a legacy of support and advocacy for Latinx students,” Lopez said.
Good for IUS
The ILLC committee sees having the conference at IU Southeast as a huge success.
“It benefits IUS because a strong community of support for Latinx students will help students stay in school, and for prospective students and parents alike it will show that IUS is committed to diversity and inclusion,” Lopez said.
The other co-chair of the ILLC, Leslie Venzor, said having it at IU Southeast will give Latinx students the opportunity to work together and get to know one another.
“There isn’t much diversity at IUS, so it creates a space for us to be able to share common experiences, as many of us are first-generation college students,” Venzor said.
Co-Campus Faculty Advisor Veronica Medina said hosting the conference at IU Southeast makes it more geographically accessible to students from Southern Indiana and the greater Louisville metro area, both places with large and growing Latinx populations.
“This is an awesome opportunity to showcase our beautiful campus while providing a chance for Latinx students to network with their peers from across the state,” Medina said.
Every year, the conference has a new theme. The 2020 conference’s theme is “Dreaming Out Loud: Unifying the Future.”
Medina said the first part of the theme is a response to the current cultural climate in which Latinx people are demonized, dehumanized and disenfranchised.
“Latinx people are here, have always been here, and will always be here, and we won’t be silenced or silent,” she said.
“The term itself is controversial, despite its attempts to be inclusive and empowering. The conference provides a supportive environment for participants to define existing labels that seek to divide or limit.”
Venzor said using this theme recognizes the DREAMers, which are minors who came into the United States and are granted conditional residency.
“Oftentimes as minorities we have dreams we want to chase but there are many barriers we have to overcome compared to others, whether the dreams are for ourselves or for the community,” she said. “Unifying the future is wanting to have unity across all kinds of communities, not just Latinx communities.”
Planning is Underway
According to Venzor, there are many steps and processes that go into planning a conference. The conference entails having a keynote speaker, entertainment groups, workshops, a resource fair, etc.
While the conference is geared toward Latinx issues, it is open to individuals of all cultural and racial backgrounds. Students can get involved before the conference by joining the ILLC, or they can even volunteer at the conference.
“We’re expecting about 300 participants who won’t necessarily be familiar with our campus and who will need to be checked in at Registration then escorted to and from the classrooms where workshops are located. Working a conference is a great experience in and of itself,” Medina said.
According to Medina, the main purpose of the ILLC is to celebrate the uniqueness of Indiana’s Latinx students and to raise awareness about the challenges Latinx students experience in educational, professional, social and cultural life.
“ILLC provides IUS students with opportunities to grow their leadership and networking skills by interacting with their peers from across the state and encourages cross-cultural cooperation and collaboration, both on campus and in the community,” she said.
Editor’s note – A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the conference has never been held outside of Bloomington. The story has been corrected.