Say one is holding a college brochure- what sections of the brochure are most likely to grab and maintain one’s attention? It could be the Alumni section, for ambitious types striving to bump shoulders with the shakers and movers of the country. Maybe the brochure is open to the spread about student groups and activities. When I was researching colleges, I wish I’d paid more attention to the list of majors and disciplines available- no matter how unimportant people claim an undergraduate degree is, what one majors is still informs the classes and requirements one has to meet. That’s why a brochure is a brochure; it sells the college to an uninformed buyer, who may not know the crucial things to look for.
But colleges don’t often advertise an opportunity that changed my life when I recognized how uncommon it was, and I’m referring to conferences and consortiums, summits and retreats. I don’t remember much opportunities for these experiences in high school, but if there were, I don’t doubt that hefty fees made me turn the other way and move on with my day. These are the type of opportunities one has to seek out; checking fliers, newsletters, or visiting the Student Center are good ways to come across advertisements for identity or leadership conferences. Reed has offered leadership retreats helping Reedies discover their strengths, build confidence, and cultivate emotional intelligence. A friend of mine attended a grad-school readiness conference in New England targeting underrepresented minorities in academia. For two years in a row, I’ve missed out on a weekend leadership retreat that helps students articulate and share their identities and how that shapes who they are, in addition to how it plays into their person as a leader. (Which sounds lovely and all, but it also takes place near a bioluminescent beach, and is a component of the camp. How cool!) The reader can guess what one of my goals is for next year.

Back in February, I attended a Latinx Conference in UC Riverside for a couple of days. My college covered everything from the hotel to the flight. This is one of the many perks of attending a college-endorsed conference (and if it isn’t endorsed, applying for funding is also an option), which is an all-expenses paid trip. Conferences are a great option for students in insular, small colleges, in which the atmosphere can get repetitive and suffocating. Taking a break from Portland and spending time in a different college town with other students exposed me to different ways of socializing and spending free time.

More importantly, the conference taught me about leadership and community-building in the context of being Latina. I met Latinxs from other schools across California, some of whom I still keep in touch with. While road tripping in Northern California, I ran into a man from the conference at UC Santa Cruz, and he showed me around the school’s student union and identity-based centers.

Workshops included topics such as “Resiliency: Coping and Practicing Healing from our QTLatinx Ancestral Trauma,” and “The Immigration Quilt: Intersectionality within the Immigrant Movement.” These were subjects which I would never have explored in classes at Reed, or at least not without taking several lower-level social science classes first. As main components of the event, I enjoyed a performance by AB Soto, a queer musician challenging conceptions of masculinity and mainstream queerness. Slam poet Alan Pelaez and trans activist Bamby Salcedo also gave moving performances. Being surrounded by people of similar identities in a conference specifically for empowerment in these identities was motivating, inspiring. I found people who shared the same frustrations as I, the same hopes, the same survival mechanisms. Not to mention I gained lots of followers on Twitter and Instagram. (Of utmost importance!) More important than the similarities I had with other conference attendees, however, were the differences. People talked differently and approached topics differently than a Reed student would. I learned so much from other people at the conference because conversations were new, and we were of different disciplines. The conference changed how I viewed my place in the Latinx community, and pushed me to become more engaged with activism for QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color). Queer activism and discourse in my school is largely whitewashed, so I did not quite know how to talk about differing intersections. Now, I feel more confident talking about these issues as an intern of my school’s Multicultural Center.

Depending on one’s career, opportunities to attend conferences may be limited to college days, so don’t pass up these events promoting growth and community.