In a day full of coffee, burritos and cookies, over a hundred students attended the Eighth Annual Latinx Student Empowerment Conference. The event took place on Saturday at the Marshall School of Business. Students from all backgrounds watched their peers present their research, attended financial literacy and branding workshops and listened to speakers who all have one thing in common: the drive to support young Latinos.

Laura Farber, a current partner at Hahn & Hahn LLP, is the first Latina woman to serve as president of the Tournament of Roses and opened the day’s events as the first keynote speaker. During her time as president of the tournament, Farber worked tirelessly to weave the theme of “The Power of Hope” into their events. Farber also made the conscious effort to have Latinos as the grand marshals, which included actresses Rita Moreno and Gina Torres, as well as Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez.

Laura Farber (left), a keynote speaker of the Eighth Annual Latinx Student Empowerment Conference, also the first-ever Latina president of the Tournament of Roses Association, explains the significance of the 2020 Tournament of Roses Poster with the theme
Laura Farber (left), a keynote speaker of the Eighth Annual Latinx Student Empowerment Conference, also the first-ever Latina president of the Tournament of Roses Association, explains the significance of the 2020 Tournament of Roses Poster with the theme "the power of hope" alongside La CASA Director Billy Vela (right).

"It’s not just hope, it’s the power of hope, el poder de la esperanza… because we can come together as a community with the power of hope," expressed Farber.

Farber kicked off the day’s events with a feeling of excitement and students then attended workshops that ranged from research presentations to financial literacy. Many students were given the opportunity to present their research and gain feedback from their peers. Sophomore Alejandra Barreto took the chance to present her findings on group model building through her research assistant position in the Office for Health Promotion Strategy. A completely new experience for her, Barreto reflected on her presentation.

"I came in very nervous, but my best friend was sitting in the front row and everyone looked really relaxed and happy, in a great mood, and that definitely made me feel more at home," Barreto said about presenting her research for the first time.

The space created by the Latinx Student Empowerment Conference allowed students to share their work and uplift one another. Other research presentations touched on topics like mindfulness, the first-generation experience, the history of the brown berets, and the lack of representation of Latinos in higher education.

Trojans from all walks of life attended the conference, including graduate students Cristina Navarro-Aguirre who worked at La CASA during the summer. As a graduate student, Navarro-Aguirre felt that the conference provided a unique chance to meet other students like her.

“It’s hard to stay connected as a graduate student because you’re not always on campus. What I’ve learned is that the more you come to these conferences the more people you meet, and you don’t know the effect that you can have on someone else or that somebody can have on you through a conversation,” Navarro-Aguirre said.

Graduate students Diana June-Greer (left) and Cristina Navarro-Aguirre (right) attend the conference to engage with their peers and hear President Carol Folt's speech.
Graduate students Diana June-Greer (left) and Cristina Navarro-Aguirre (right) attend the conference to engage with their peers and hear President Carol Folt's speech.

President Carol Folt, one of the event’s speakers, vocalized the unity the conference brought to attendees and the change that can be enacted through their involvement. Folt also gave a preview of upcoming initiatives to support middle-income students and her involvement thus far in creating these spaces.

"I think when our students get together and they start talking about what it takes to make real change to build the communities that they want to be a part of, that’s how we get it done," Folt said in an interview after her speech.

The conference was also spearheaded by the Latino Business Student Association which relaunched in 2019 and routinely hosts events to help Latino students in their professional development. The current president, Temoc Chavero, said he was excited to collaborate with La CASA in hosting the conference, in particular in getting the alumni panel together.

“When I took the presidency I wanted to change the way diversity was seen on campus, that it’s not a crutch or it’s not something to look down upon. It’s something that needs to be celebrated in ourselves… that’s what’s been amazing about this entire event,” Chavero said about the planning experience.

Students attend the Trojan Grad Panel, moderated by Xavier Hernandez (left) from the Latina/o Graduate Student Association.
Students attend the Trojan Grad Panel, moderated by Xavier Hernandez (left) from the Latina/o Graduate Student Association.

The last speaker was Board of Trustees member, Michael Felix. A newcomer to the board, Felix rounded out the feeling of unity the conference promoted through sharing his experience accessing a higher education at USC. Felix reflected the feeling of imposter syndrome with a work story.

“I remember my first day at Deloitte the team was going out to dinner and… we went to the Pacific Dining Car. I look at the menu and I’m like, well, I only have $20 in my wallet. I whispered to my supervisor and he told me to use my credit card… so everyone gave me their money and I gave my credit card and two minutes later the waiter comes back and says, ‘Your card’s declined, your limit was only like two bucks,’” Felix said to laughter and groans of agreement from the crowd.

Board of Trustee member, Michael Felix, speaks about navigating professional spaces as a Latino and the importance of making your voice heard.
Board of Trustee member, Michael Felix, speaks about navigating professional spaces as a Latino and the importance of making your voice heard.

His story struck a chord with students who experience imposter syndrome, or the feeling of achievement based on luck, not on merit. Throughout the conference, students were encouraged to take the space, engage with others, and share their ideas. Felix encapsulated this message by calling on students to speak out and make a change in their communities, despite the difficulties.

“We have to be collaborative and inclusive ourselves, so don’t build walls… we have to be willing to stick our neck out and have a voice. I say that recognizing that you may think for a long time that you’re not going to be heard, but you will be heard and change takes time,” Felix said. In my forty years of experience, voices are heard."