Danielle McColgan ’14
“We are sorry but you are not an Ivy League student; hence, you cannot attend the conference.” When Yenisleidy Simon AC ’13 received this email in response to an inquiry she sent to the organizer of the sixth Annual Latino Ivy League Conference, she was “disappointed, even embarrassed, and honestly upset.” However, rejections can oftentimes become victories, and what grew out of the exclusionary policy regarding attendance at the Ivy League Conference was the creation of the Inaugural Seven Sisters Latin@ Conference. On March 2, 2013, students from Smith, Mount Holyoke and Wellesley College gathered in the Campus Center Carroll Room to conduct a critical examination of what it means to be a Latin@ in a world of elite higher education.
The Nosotr@s Conference Committee worked arduously to cultivate an environment that not only served as a space for Seven Sisters Latin@ students and alums to offer support to one another, but also allowed all participants to recognize how their experiences are connected to the Seven Sisters’ history. Speaking to the history of Latin@s at Smith, Professor Ginetta Candelario ’91 explained that the event was “a mark of how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. Smith has shifted over the last 30 years from where we had only 55 [Latin@ students on campus]; now we have a critical foundation of alums.”
The Seven Sisters Latin@ Conference allowed Latin@ students and allies to access cultural capital through networking with peers and mentors. Workshops during the day also enabled students to examine issues of access and retention for students of color at their respective institutions, and how to reconcile being a Latin@ in an elite culture while still remaining true to their home culture.
Students and alums worked together to identify institutional barriers that Latin@ students face when on campus and brainstormed ideas for the future, which included working on ways to turn struggles into solutions. Angelica Bernal, a Wellesley College alum, recognized how, in working through the issues discussed – such as a lack of institutional commitment to creating spaces for students of color – Latin@ students can nonetheless move forward.
“The reason we’re here is because we struggled. The struggle will continue – but we can rely on each other witnessing that struggle together,” she said.
The outcome of the conference was empowerment, critical engagement and the strengthening of the sisterhood between the Seven Sisters Colleges. “I expected a normal experience [discussing] college, but it was more than that,” said Wendy Ramirez ’16. “Everyone was upfront about the challenges [Latin@s] face and gave really good advice. It’s important to hear from people who went through college – it inspires you.”
The alums who returned to campus also recognized the “outstanding” efforts of Nosotr@s in planning the conference and designing an experience that was truly a testament to the experience of Latin@ students.
“I feel honored to be in the presence of my sisters, and to see how far the Latin@ community at Smith has come since I was here. It’s outstanding, and I could not be more grateful to be a part of this network of incredible leaders,” said keynote speaker Maria Naranjo ’91.
The Nosotr@s Conference Committee announced that the next Seven Sisters Latin@ Conference will be held at Wellesley College. The legacy of Latin@ students and the history of their diverse experiences will continue to live on and inspire future generations of Latin@ leaders on Smith’s campus and beyond.