Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not? – F. Kennedy
Qué calor! The blazing afternoon sun of a mid-September day made me actually look forward to New England winter. I was devising a plan to make my college room feel less like the Saharan desert when the phone rang. I answered reluctantly, partially annoyed at the unbearable weather. On the other end of the line, a familiar voice greeted me with an enthusiasm that immediately dissipated my grumpiness. – Cómo te va en la nueva escuela? , my friend asked eagerly. I did my best not to let the weather dominate the conversation, so I talked about the gorgeousness of Smith College campus, its enthralling classes and its oh-so-incredibly-brilliant professors. He was pleased to find me so enthusiastic and proceeded to share a piece of news that was meant to brighten up my day. He brought to my attention the possibility to attend the 6th Annual Latino Ivy League Conference. The conference would serve as an avenue for us to connect after having transferred to different schools to pursue our academic degrees. Moreover, it would be a unique opportunity to step into a space of Latino empowerment and build my professional network among the Latino community pursuing higher education. What exciting news! I immediately emailed the student in charge of registration and waited. One, two…twenty minutes later, my inbox announced a response: We are sorry, but you are not an Ivy League student; hence, you cannot attend the conference.
I felt…uff, disappointed, even embarrassed and honestly upset. I was not angry at the fact that I’m not an Ivy League student, but I was perplexed to see Latinos in higher education failing to create inclusive environments, failing to support one another. That was one of my most vivid encounters with elitism and privilege, and I was not content with it. Shortly after, I realized that criticizing others was not going to necessarily solve the problem. I began to understand that we all have privilege in one way or another; what matters is how we use that privilege. I finally focused on what was important to me, creating strategies to improve the effectiveness of the Latino educational pipeline. I firmly believe that granting access to higher education is not a success so long as there is a lack of structures to guarantee retention of the students and opportunities for us to build cultural capital. Suddenly, excitement rushed through my veins, as it occurred to me that I could build one of those spaces, and right then the first ever Seven Sisters Latina Conference was born.
I willingly embarked in this exhilarating, yet challenging journey of making it happen. I reached out to students, Alumnae, faculty and administrators from the traditional Seven Sisters and the response was overwhelmingly encouraging. Although Latinas from the Seven Sisters were the primary audience in my mind, I made sure to leave this space open to Latino students from other schools who might be interested in attending. Today, I can proudly say that on March 2nd, 2013 Smith College welcomed more than one hundred Latinas and allies who were eager to engage with our theme: “Celebrando Nuestro Legado: Success Stories from Latina Leaders.”
We witnessed history in the making as this conference, the first of its kind, became a space of Latina empowerment in which Latina Alumnae discussed their professional paths and career challenges and students exchanged ideas on how to develop initiatives that improve students' access to and retention in higher education. Furthermore, our keynote speaker, a prominent D.C. Latina who has vast experience advancing the rights of labor unions shared strategies on how to become better activists. That’s is exactly what I wanted to get out of the conference to which I was denied access. Today, I’m grateful for that rejection because it allowed me to realize my potential as an agent for social change, as a Latina leader, and as a woman who dreams things that never were and says, why not?