At the eighth annual Latinx Student Empowerment Conference, hosted by La CASA and the Latino Business Student Association, keynote speakers Tournament of Roses President Laura Farber, President Carol Folt and trustee Michael Felix spoke on overcoming the barriers of being underrepresented in their academic and work fields.
The conference, which more than 100 students and community members attended, featured financial literacy workshops, research panels such as “The Water Crisis in La Guajira, Colombia” and an alumni panel to share their academic experiences in the Latinx community at USC.
“Experiencing what I went through last semester at USC with the Fluor Tower flooding as well as some racism and the lack of inclusivity on campus, that made me feel the need to attend this event to at least get some sort of self-empowerment in me,” said Carol Alata, a freshman majoring in computational neuroscience. “Attending this event fulfilled that.”
In October, more than 30 Fluor Tower residents relocated to temporary housing after sprinklers flooded the Latinx community floor. Racist memes targeting the Latinx residents surfaced after the flooding.
Farber began the conference by sharing her experience as a daughter of immigrants who fled from Argentina to the United States after facing political oppression from the militaristic government.
“We came to this country because this country represented a beacon of hope: hope for freedom of speech, expression, association, religion, to pursue your educational and economic opportunities,” Farber said. “A lot of people take that for granted. We didn’t have [that opportunity].”
Farber chose poder de la esperanza, or “power of hope” as this year’s Rose Bowl parade theme, inspired by her parents’ immigrant experience. She also chose to highlight various cultures in the parade by including bands from across the country and the world, such as the Centenaria Banda Colegial University of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, and the Japan Honor Green Band.
“A lot of folks thought, ‘OK, we understand there’s a lot of sabor Latino in this parade,’ but if you looked at our parade, we had everybody represented,” Farber said. “It was the veritable U.N. That’s how [the Rose Bowl] should be. It should be inclusion.”
She also talked about her pride in having this year’s parade represent her Latinx community.
“Going down that [parade route] and seeing my community represented — the majority of my community — because I would guess that 80% of the people in that route were Latino … they were all thrilled,” Farber said. “They said, ‘Thank you for el poder de la esperanza, thank you for making us feel included.’”
Later on, Folt spoke on her experience as an outsider in a community she was not the majority in, including when she was a transfer student at UC Santa Barbara and the only female doctoral student at Michigan State University. She also described her experience finding a sense of belonging and advised students on how to find it at the university level.
“Everyone wants to belong [at a university], not just because you got accepted here and earned your place here but because you helped make it something that you want to be a part of, something that you can believe in and something that really matters to you,” Folt said.
Folt also announced her plan to create a program that helps make college affordable for middle-class students.
“As a university, we must be committed to making sure that our student body is diverse and vibrant,” Folt said. “To do that, we must be aggressive in pursuing policies that can help tackle things like affordability.”
At the end of her speech, Folt opened the discussion up to audience questions. Sabrina Perla, a freshman majoring in business administration, asked Folt how she overcame her sense of being an outsider as an underrepresented individual. Folt said that students should think of people and events that they have made an impact in and use it as validation in attending an elite university.
“You know that you did things that have already touched a lot of people. I think it never hurts to remind yourself that’s who you are,” Folt said. “The fact that you go to a new place, and it’s like ‘Whoa, it’s so big, everyone looks so confident and successful.’ Don’t let that [affect your ability to see] who you are … Never give in to that imposter syndrome that we all have.”
As the last keynote speaker, Felix shared his experience as a student at USC. He said he was grateful for receiving an education but felt excluded from an institution with a majority of privileged students.
“After my work-study job … I’d walk to Figueroa to catch the bus to go home,” Felix said. “Seeing all these BMWs driving by, all these fancy cars and one Friday afternoon as I was sitting on that bus — that’s when I made that vow to say, ‘My children will never come [to USC].’”
Returning to campus as an alumnus, he said he has felt the inclusion he hungered for as a student. He advised students to embrace the Trojan Family network, which he didn’t take advantage of 40 years ago.
He also discussed with attendees his experience as a Latinx man in business and how he did not let his identity define his place in the field.
“I’ve always realized I was one of the few Latinx professionals in [my companies], and it only got ridiculously worse as I’ve progressed,” Felix said. “I thought of myself as a business leader who happened to be Latinx … At the end of the day, what you can bring to the business trumps color, gender, all those other factors.”
Sofia Reyes, a sophomore majoring in health promotion and disease prevention, said she could relate to Felix’s undergraduate experience, as she is often the sole Latinx woman in spaces at USC.
“I have grown to despise … how much of a bubble USC is in terms of elitism, but then that [Felix] was inspired to come back to help pave the way for people like him — that was super inspiring,” Reyes said.
Felix, who attended the entire conference, said he felt the workshops and speeches could appeal to a wider audience in the University community outside of Latinx students.
“[The conference showed] another picture of how amazing our student body is, our Latinx community,” Felix said. “Many of the sessions today don’t just apply to students … There’s so much more content here in terms of things to help you be more successful or how you navigate certain challenges.”
Correction: A previous version of this article reported that the event was the Latinx Empowerment Conference. It is named the Latinx Student Empowerment Conference. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.