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Students of Color Symposium fosters action in the name of justice

By Ashley A. Williams

Students of Color Symposium fosters action in the name of justice

By Ashley A. Williams
During the two-day event, keynote speaker and alumna Ana Navarro, along with other alumni and University of Miami leaders, offered advice and expertise on standing up to systemic unfairness with positive deeds.

Hundreds of students from across the University of Miami gathered virtually on March 5-6, for the fourth annual Students of Color Symposium to learn more about how stand up to social injustice through both words and actions.

The event began on Friday, March 5, with opening remarks from Kailyn Hayes, symposium chair; Christopher Clarke, director of the Office of Multicultural Students Affairs; and Kennedy Robinson, assistant director. They each expressed gratitude to those in attendance for joining. They also honored the legacy of civil rights leader and politician Rep. John Lewis—who was the inspiration for the symposium theme, “Good Trouble.”   

Following the opening remarks, Patricia A. Whitely, senior vice president for student affairs; Renee Dickens Callan, executive director of student life; and University President Julio Frenk each provided welcome remarks. Whitely and Dickens Callan both reminisced on the many accomplishments multicultural students have achieved throughout their careers at the University—including the desire to create the symposium four years ago.

Frenk honored alumnus Harold Long, the founder of United Black Students, who died suddenly last week. “His work and boldness paved the way for the kinds of dialogue this symposium is designed to engender,” said Frenk. “As a student of color who chose to engage with his peers, he set an admirable example for campus involvement.” 

Frenk went on to offer a moment of silence in Long’s memory before discussing the deep social inequities and the health and economic crises communities of color face because of the pandemic.

“Left unexamined and unchallenged, social ills and unjust constructs don’t change—they fester, they persist, they spiral,” said Frenk. “I am very proud of the work being done by our students to demand we live up to our ideals and model the change we wish to see both on and off campus.

Moments before the keynote address, Landon Coles, the president of the United Black Students, and Zoria Telfafre, the Black Awareness Month Committee chair, presented awards to students and faculty and staff members who made noteworthy contributions at and beyond the University. 

Coles noted that this year has been more challenging than ever for marginalized communities everywhere, because the pandemic has disproportionally affected them. “I think that we are now going to be better for it as we begin to come out on the other side,” he said. “Events like the Students of Color Symposium are indispensable to our community. What we are doing now impacts the students who attend this university tomorrow.”

Tre’Vaughn Howard, a broadcast journalism and political science major who is also a Hammond Scholar, served as the moderator for the symposium’s headliner. Alumna Ana Navarro—Telemundo strategist, CNN political analyst, and co-host of ABC’s “The View”—discussed her experiences and how speaking up, or “acting up,” has shaped her career and her outlook on life. She described how being the outspoken Latina woman she is today is a personal conviction that comes with much responsibility. Navarro proceeded to encourage students who feel similarly to continue creating “good trouble” in the name of justice.  

“You are the new civil rights warriors in our country,” she said. “You are taking up the baton from the John Lewises and the people who fought that fight in the ’60s. I hope that one day we get to that point where we don’t have to feel responsibility to represent and speak up but where we can just be.” 

On Saturday, March 6, the second day of the symposium, immersive and interactive breakout sessions were offered. The topics, which covered privilege, environmental justice, and navigating professional settings as a marginalized person who wishes to break through barriers, were hosted by alumni and local community members including Rev. Jennifer Bailey, founder and executive director of Faith Matters Network; Dustin Ling of Citi; Astin Hayes of Rémy Cointreau USA; Carla Santamaria of Miami Dade College; and Dewayne Washington of JP Morgan.