Latino Leadership conference celebrates culture, differences, dreams

KOKOMO, Ind. — Indiana University Kokomo celebrated one of its fastest-growing student populations, hosting the 19th annual IU Latino Leadership Conference.

About 220 college and high school students attended the conference, Finding Strength through our Diverse Identities, with workshops on culture, education, identity, leadership, and mentorship.

“We live in a diverse society,” said IU Kokomo senior Flor Valdes, who helped plan the conference. “We need to be more tolerant and accepting of the differences between us.”

In a time where people tend to be distrustful of those not like them Valdes, president of the Cougar Advocates for Diversity, said it is a way for people to celebrate their own culture, and learn about others, in a safe environment.

She attended the 2017 conference, and found it so inspiring, she asked Kate Aguilar, coordinator of student life and campus identity, to host in 2018.

“It gives me an extra push to complete my last semester, and to finish strong,” she said. “I hope everyone here feels motivated and ready to keep moving forward to make positive change in our communities. I feel honored to have helped bring it here.”

Valdes especially hoped the high school students there felt confident that college education is possible, and that they will be supported if they choose IU Kokomo. About half the audience was from high schools statewide, including Frankfort and Logansport in IU Kokomo’s region.

“It’s good for them to see we celebrate their culture, and offer them support to succeed in achieving their dreams here,” she said.

Aguilar noted that the Hispanic student population is the fastest-growing on campus, and she was glad to have the opportunity to show what IU Kokomo offers, to encourage them to consider it.

“We’ve had so much growth in this minority population, with it being up 150 percent in the last five years,” she said. “It’s been a really wonderful time not just to welcome them, but show them what is available to them at IU Kokomo.”

Aguilar said the event provides Latino students a place to celebrate their uniqueness, and to promote leadership and scholarship among them. It’s also an opportunity for them to network among others who face challenges similar to their own.

The event kicked off Saturday morning (March 3) in Alumni Hall, with a resource fair, showcasing opportunities including the 21st Century Scholars program, financial aid and scholarships, the Indiana Latino Institute and Sigma Lamba Upsilon/Senoritas Latinas Unidas Sorority Inc. Each student also received an official IU T-shirt in Spanish.

While the majority of attendees were Latino, Aguilar noted that it was open to people of all backgrounds.

“It’s an enriching opportunity to attend an identity-based event, whether you are part of that group or not,” she said. “It allows you to learn what issues are speaking to these students in this moment in time, and how they relate to you as part of IU, and how you can participate and be present in those issues.”

The conference was founded at IU Bloomington, and has traveled among IU’s regional campuses and a few other schools. It returns to Bloomington for the 20th anniversary edition in 2019.

In addition to students from IU Bloomington, IU Kokomo, and IUPUI, attendees also represented DePauw University, Ivy Tech Community College, Purdue University and Valparaiso University.

SOURCE: News release from Indiana University Kokomo