From Nov. 9-11, UCR hosted the 24th Annual Students of Color Conference (SOCC), a three-day systemwide event that addressed the structural and social issues of racial, ethnic and gender inequalities.
SOCC is one of the oldest conferences held by the UC Student Association (UCSA) and it takes place at a different UC campus every year. The initial planning stages date back to early July, when UCR delegates won the bid to host the conference—for the first time in over 12 years.
Organized by the UCR Planning Collective, a 24-member committee, third-year students Adriana Cruz and Remie Rahman were the co-coordinators of the event. UCR SOCC was the largest conference in UCSA history, which consisted of 100 high school students and all three tiers of higher education in California.
“First, to be among 1,200 students of color from across the system and to hear both the different perspectives on UC, state of California and national issues but also to hear the commonality in terms of…the matter that seemed to be on the mind of most students [which] is access to education, and higher education in particular,” stated Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs James Sandoval.
With assistance from ASUCR, grassroots organizations and many UCR student organizations, SOCC became a reality in the second weekend of November.
Encompassing the immense diversity of UCR, the theme of this year’s conference was “R’Stories: Embracing our Struggles as Tools for Transformation.”
Unlike previous conferences, the UCR SOCC included common ground clinics and seminars, along with a local high school component on Saturday. Other unifying events included graduate mixers, which were specifically reserved for UC alumnus.
Students attended “closed space” caucuses, where one would align with groups of a certain gender, race and ethnicity that they identified with. During the common ground period, attendees were all given name tags and different numbers. Individuals were then asked to find others who held the same number, in order to create a more “open space” amongst strangers.
“[For] people who never attended the SOCC, it can be overwhelming sometimes…you have all these terms thrown at you and you all of a sudden have to critically think about ethnicity, race and gender and how they all intersect and intersectionality,” stated Rahman.
Fourth-year Reyzana Biddle expressed interest in a workshop held by the Youth Justice Coalition (YJC), despite the fact that it drew a smaller crowd compared to workshops such as the overcrowded Media on Students of Color. The YJC facilitated a workshop, which was aimed at stemming the state’s school to prison pipeline.
“Say you’re expelled from a school in San Bernardino, you can’t go to any other schools in San Bernardino,” stated Biddle, who felt that the conference offered her greater insight about grassroot initiatives.“If you want something to change, then you need to initiate that. You can’t wait around for someone else to be a leader or something, you have to do that,” she said.
On Sunday, seminars were led by various keynote speakers and focused on the topics of workers’ rights, genocide awareness and the prison-industrial complex.
Working mainly behind the scenes, Rahman wanted the seminar session to address specific topics. “Let’s focus on issues that affect us as students and people of color, but issues that we kind of disregard because it doesn’t affect us directly, but indirectly affects us,” she said
Open session workshops were available to all and campus breakouts included a student call to action rally at the Bell Tower. Keynote speakers included UCR professor of ethnic studies Dylan Rodriguez, who spoke vehemently against the excessive use of law enforcement on university campuses.
During an interview with the Highlander, fifth-year student Henry Lopez asked, “Why would they want to militarize an intellectual space?” in response to Professor Rodriguez’s speech.
“UCR has a responsibility and a great opportunity to promote acceptance among ethnic groups in higher education,” stated Lopez, who encouraged the planning committee to spread the message of SOCC, rather than allowing it to end on the last day of the conference.
Lopez felt that certain parts of the event were not structured to allow a common ground to develop, where individuals could collaborate to develop an action plan and address issues facing people of color. However, taking away from the conference, Lopez expressed his personal goals to reduce the violent tensions found in east Riverside between people of color with the message, saying, “There are no guns or gangs in higher education; this is a safe space for you.”
“I just really grew to appreciate the people I was working with in planning the conference…So I just thought it was just really powerful to see people who’ve never been involved get involved and get involved in something so big for like their first thing..It’s never too late to get involved and try to help make a difference, make a change,” stated Rahman.