Fifteen College of Wooster students attended the 2021 Latina Empowerment and Development (LEAD) Conference sponsored by Harvard University’s Latinas Unidas organization which aims to foster a network of Latinas and Latinx people, a gender-neutral term to describe people of Latin American descent, to address social, political, and economic issues. The conference was held virtually from Jan. 15 to 17 and had the theme of “Taking Action.” “The LEAD Conference is a place where Latinas and Latinx femmes can build coalitions and networks that are transactional, cultural, racial, and demographically diverse,” explained Annays Yacamán ’22, a political science major at Wooster.
Yacamán ’22 was Wooster’s student ambassador for the conference. “In my role as a student ambassador, I applied for funding for tickets for up to 20 Wooster students to attend the LEAD conference. I then began recruitment on campus to get people to attend,” she explained. “I created virtual flyers, reached out to the members of Latinas Unidas de Wooster, posted on social media, and I reached out to individuals who I thought would benefit from the conference but may not have been reached.”
In her role as the College chief of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Ivonne García helped to secure the funding for Wooster students to purchase tickets to attend the conference. “She took initiative to help us have this amazing opportunity,” said Giuli Morales ’23, a psychology and sociology double major and vice president of communications for Latinas Unidas de Wooster, a student-run organization that seeks to promote pride and unity within the College’s Latinx community.
Both Yacamán and Morales received General LEAD Undergraduate Awards at the conference which recognize students who “embody the LEAD spirit of Latinx excellence,” according to the conference’s website. “It meant a lot to me to receive this recognition. I have been through a number of obstacles during college, on top of being first-generation, low income, and Latinx at a predominantly white institution,” said Yacamán, who, a previous co-president of Wooster’s Latinas Unidas, is a leader in the College’s Latinx community. “Receiving this award affirmed my identity and my hard work.”
Receiving a General LEAD Undergraduate Award gave Morales the chance to take advantage of more at the conference. “Receiving the award was such a cool opportunity because I had a chance to meet more people in the conference than I expected,” she said. “I was so excited to win the award because I felt so honored to be recognized by the very powerful leaders in Latinas Unidas de Harvard.”
Yacamán and Morales drew important lessons from the panels at the conference that they plan to incorporate into their lives and on campus. “I really connected with the women on the Law, Advocacy, and Public Policy panel,” Yacamán said. “One of the biggest takeaways I took was that as Latinas, we must take control over the narratives of these stereotypes forced on us. People may say we are too loud, but the panelists taught me that you must turn this around and use this to prove why you would be the fiercest lawyer to defend your clients.”
Morales noted the ways that the LEAD Conference positively impacted her sense of self. “Being involved in this conference has changed my confidence; I am now more confident in fighting and pushing my way to not only help others but also to help myself in being a better person and a better leader,” Morales said. “This conference has changed my perspective and I will forever remember the tips that the amazing keynote speakers and panels shared in order to move on in life.”