Annual symposium lifts the voice of the underrepresented

An opening reception and panel discussion were held in the Shalala Student Center Grand Ballroom and featured Jonathan Vilma—a member of the University’s Board of Trustees, former Miami Hurricane and NFL football player, and current ESPN college football analyst—and Kysha Harriell, executive director of the Office of Academic Enhancement. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

By Ashley A. Williams

An opening reception and panel discussion were held in the Shalala Student Center Grand Ballroom and featured Jonathan Vilma—a member of the University’s Board of Trustees, former Miami Hurricane and NFL football player, and current ESPN college football analyst—and Kysha Harriell, executive director of the Office of Academic Enhancement. Photo: TJ Lievonen/University of Miami

Annual symposium lifts the voice of the underrepresented

By Ashley A. Williams
The Students of Color Symposium provided a space for students to explore their differences and commonalities, along with workshop sessions and networking opportunities.

With the help of her peers and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, Tiyah Snell, a sophomore majoring in creative advertising, helped host the third annual Students of Color Symposium this past weekend.

She hopes students walked away from the symposium with a new outlook on intersectionality and issues that affect all marginalized people.

“This experience was eye-opening,” said Snell. “I’m proud of the work that we got done. I’m proud that we were able to talk about issues that we care about in a space where we were comfortable talking about issues that affect us.”

The two-day event, which took place in the Shalala Student Center at the University of Miami, had a mission to provide an opportunity to engage in dialogue on issues that affect the educational, personal, and professional growth of students.

An opening reception and panel discussion were held on Friday and featured Jonathan Vilma—a member of the University’s Board of Trustees, former Miami Hurricane and NFL football player, and current ESPN college football analyst—

and Kysha Harriell, executive director of the Office of Academic Enhancement. The two discussed the importance of intersectional dialog for topics that included sports, race, gender, social justice, and advocacy.

“My job is to advocate for students and enhance their experience,” said Harriell. “I think that everything that I have done for the students at UM is driven by social justice issues. It’s a part of who I am.”

Vilma shared with the audience his experiences of using his large following on social media and television to speak about “touchy subjects” like social justice issues, biases, discrimination, and more.

“It’s very impactful, yet you have to be sure you are going about it the right way,” said Vilma. “When we were playing the game, we were always taught to keep things business, as usual. Now that I’m not playing [football] I understand how you can use it for your benefit.” 

On Saturday, students participated in workshops that highlighted diversity, ethical leadership, and social responsibility. Steven Valentine, a local poet, led a session about self-identity and self-expression through spoken word. Another workshop engaged students in a facilitated conversation and board game that simulated structural inequality in the United States. Each of the six characters in the monopoly-inspired game encountered real-life advantages and limitations based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and class.  

“I genuinely hope that it helped people get into the frame of mind of what other marginalized groups go through,” said Snell, who portrayed Sophia, a disabled, Latinx, woman in the board game.

Kennedy Robinson, assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said she hopes students who attended the symposium left feeling both empowered and equipped to share what they learned with others.

“Evoking change takes more than listening to the stats that often go ignored,’’ said Robinson. It means “using them to educate others and as a blueprint to restructure systematic injustices,” he added. “I hope all those who came were able to leave with that charge.”