The San Jacinto College liberal arts division hosted a virtual student conference Friday, April 23, on diversity, equity, and inclusion aimed to celebrate student diversity and create awareness for society's needs and responsibilities.
"Everyone involved — from students to staff and faculty — were eager to participate," said Dr. Kimberly DeLauro, liberal arts dean. "Since it was virtual, we weren't sure how much engagement we would get, but the energy for the conference was great. I joined several of the breakout rooms, and everyone was engaged in the chat."
DeLauro and her senior administrative assistant, Claudia Alvarez, saw the potential for students to engage with the College in a meaningful way.
"There's so much diversity training for faculty and staff, but we wanted something more for students," DeLauro said. "If we are sending these students out into the real world, they will also need to navigate the waters of a diverse workplace. We tried to include topics relevant to their world and emphasized communicating with those who are different."
The conference was highlighted by faculty speakers on a wide variety of topics, including socioeconomic diversity, cultural diversity, how to communicate in a professional environment, mental health, defying educational barriers, and more.
"I found the breakout session about racial diversity to be really powerful," said Safira Maradiago, student. "I learned a lot about how to choose your words carefully. Words should be used to heal and not hurt."
Even though the conference was virtual, speakers connected with students in a way that the classroom may not allow.
"Students don't always get to see their instructors let their guard down and share personal experiences," said DeLauro. "The students seemed to appreciate the open dialogue and relatable life experiences."
Students could choose which breakout sessions they wanted to attend based on personal preference and were open to candid discussions.
"The breakout rooms were so powerful and insightful," said Alejandro Gonzalez Perez, student. "I valued how we have a really diverse and accepting culture on campus. Talking about topics such as homosexuality and mental health can be controversial, but I believe it is important for us to realize that talking about this is going to allow us to realize the change our society needs."
Each of the 32 student participants were rewarded for their engagement with a Student Success Initiative Grant from the San Jacinto College Foundation for over $150.
"We were really pleased to receive the grant from the Foundation to offer students," said Alvarez. "Students were eager to apply, and there was even a waiting list."
The liberal arts division hopes to host more conferences like this to encourage open
discussion among faculty and students.