El Congreso de UCSB held its 29th annual Latine College Day on April 16 at Storke Plaza to help Latine middle and high school students navigate the structures of higher education at UC Santa Barbara and beyond.
El Congreso de UCSB is a student-led cultural, social and activist organization that works to provide an inclusive space for students of marginalized identities. The group helps students navigate educational institutions, provides a communal space that encourages free expression and creates grassroots change as the official MEChA, or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán, chapter at UCSB.
Latine College Day (LCD) is an annual conference consisting of keynote speakers, entertainment, workshop sessions and more, with free food and transportation provided to event attendees.
This year’s LCD’s theme, “Leading Our Comunidad Forward,” aimed to emphasize community and collaboration after not being able to hold in-person events due to concerns over COVID-19, according to third-year political science major and El Congreso Records Chair Isabella Medrano.
The conference was co-sponsored by the following groups: Associated Students (A.S.) Finance & Business Committee; Student Initiated Outreach Program; Educational Opportunity Program; Office of the Chancellor; A.S. Student Commission on Racial Equity; Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Food Security and Basic Needs Taskforce; Chicano Studies Institute; Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor; and the MultiCultural Center.
“The vision behind Latine College Day is essentially creating a space for young Latine middle and high school students to get informed and ask questions about navigating higher education, not just UCSB specifically,” Medrano said in a statement to the Nexus. “We want students to feel welcomed to the campus, and also to feel like they can create space for themselves at any university campus.”
Medrano said that the essence of LCD is ensuring that non-white students have the same access to opportunities and resources as their white peers.
“[Non-white students] navigate a lot of unique struggles when it comes to pursuing higher education, and so, in this sense, we hope to show them that it is possible for people who look like them or were raised like them to create space in these institutions by building community and supporting each other,” she said.
Discussions around planning this year’s LCD began during Fall Quarter 2021, as it’s El Congreso’s biggest event of the year. Medrano spoke to the difficulties of organizing such a large-scale event.
“Acquiring funding, accounting for COVID protocols, and preparing around 20 congresistas to host over 150 students on campus and in-person for the first time in three years was incredibly difficult,” she said. “Regardless, everybody put in so much time and energy to make the event happen, and it all ended up coming together beautifully.”
LCD began with a keynote speaker, Chicana and Chicano studies Department Chair and professor Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval, followed by an inspirational speaker, UCSB sociology doctoral student Idalia Robles De León.
“Both gave heartwarming and utterly inspiring presentations that captured the true spirit of what we wanted this event to be about: being a Latine student in spaces of higher education where you are not necessarily supported or set up for success at the outset — even at universities that claim to be Hispanic Serving Institutions — and how these struggles serve as the foundations for community building and self-determined success,” Medrano said.
Medrano also emphasized that, although UCSB is titled a Hispanic-Serving Institution — a designation given to universities with 25% or more Latine students — the university still “has a long way to go before it actually lives up to this title.”
“Institutions of higher education are designed to enroll students to meet certain diversity requirements, but there is little or no thought given to how these students can be supported in the application process prior to enrollment, or in the struggles of navigating the institution once they are officially enrolled,” she said.
“This is why El Congreso is so invested in community building and helping students understand and navigate these struggles, because we have firsthand experience at universities that don’t meet these needs fully, and we have learned that through community building and advocacy we can hopefully set future generations of Latine students up for better success in higher learning,” Medrano continued.
The event also included a financial aid presentation and an A-G requirement presentation, aimed at informing attendees of the specific requirements needed for pursuing higher education within the University of California system.
The conference held a variety of workshop sessions, including “Unions 101,” “Navigating Environmental Spaces at UCSB” and “Diasporic Poetrics: Revolutionary Poetry and Politics.”
“Seniors were also given the opportunity to participate in a UCSB Student Panel to ask more specific questions about how to prepare for college, as many of them will be starting college next year, and to facilitate conversation with some congresistas who may have the same interests or who are pursuing the same fields of study as they are,” Medrano said.
The event also had live music entertainment from Los So-Lows, a seven-piece Oxnard-based Chicano soul and cumbia group.
Santa Barbara High School sophomore Kaylie Gil attended environmental justice and financial aid workshops, where she learned about different organizations at UCSB and the process of applying to college. She said that attending the event helped her consider her choices for her future after high school.
“[LCD] is a nice experience for anyone, and I really do like it,” Gil said. “I’ve never been to campus before, and I took this opportunity to look through my career path.”
“I’m still kind of in between [choices]. I might do community college,” she continued. “I’m still a sophomore, so I still have time, but it’s something I’ve started thinking about.”
Alethia Martinez, a Ventura High School sophomore, said she is considering attending UCSB because the event allowed her to learn more about the campus.
“I’ve never been [to campus] before, so I decided to take this opportunity to see what it was like and to see what they have to offer,” she said. “I enjoyed how friendly and energetic people here were, and it made me feel welcomed.”
Clarissa Gran, a Ventura High School freshman, enjoyed learning about campus via a variety of workshops.
“I wanted to see how university was like and what type of stuff they have here, and if I should come here after I graduate,” she said. “I went to a poetry [workshop], and it was fun.”
Medrano said she felt empowered by the student-driven execution of the event.
“There seemed to be a general sentiment of surprise amongst the students and chaperones when they learned this event was entirely planned and executed by college students not much older than them, which I think can be empowering,” she said.
Medrano said that she sees this year’s conference as a success and formed unforgettable memories from the event.
“I loved the entire event, I think because I am just so ecstatic that we pulled it off,” Medrano said. “[Low So-Lows] had everyone up out of their seats dancing and laughing — seeing the pure joy on everyone’s faces, and feeling so connected to the community we had built in that moment — I will never forget it.”
Melea Maglalang contributed reporting to this article.
A version of this article appeared on p. 5 of the April 21, 2022, print edition of the Daily Nexus.