With equal parts Latino culture, leadership and arts history, plus career, college and life advice, the fourth annual César E. Chávez Leadership Conference at Southern Oregon University on Friday showed Latino students from across the region how to touch all of the bases on the path toward success.
About 270 Latino students from 10 regional high schools converged at SOU for the campus-wide conference filled with workshops and presentations.
“We want to celebrate César Chávez’ legacy of social justice, social equality, opportunity, the ability to go reach your dreams, education. Those are the main goals of what the conference really wants to do and offer,” said Jonathan Chavez Baez, minority outreach coordinator for recruitment and pre-college youth programs at SOU.
The nearly 300-student attendance set a record for the conference, said Chavez Baez, who helped found the conference at SOU and organizes it each year.
A total of 22 different presentations by about 40 presenters throughout the day across campus focused on subjects like “Machismo in Latino Culture,” “Exploring Identity Through Art,” “Advantages of Earning Early College Credit in High School,” "How Technology & Robots Inspire Creativity” and even one simply titled “How to Get a Job.”
“I really like this university and today was great,” said 16-year-old Rheanna Murillo, who attends Mazama High School in Klamath Falls.
Murillo said she envisions herself attending SOU some day.
Her favorite presentation Friday was titled “Racialized Expectations,” which helped students explore the more subtle forms of racism Latinos may experience.
One thing she’ll walk away from the conference with is to remember “I should be proud of my culture, never be embarrassed.”
For 18-year-old Phoenix High School senior Ramon Bus, the presentation “How to Get a Job,” was a big help.
“It was my favorite because not everyone knows about resumes and everything else you have to do to get a job,” Bus said.
Dozens of volunteers and financial support from the university and several regional partners help to support the conference, Chavez Baez said.
“Each one of the participants plays a key role in our success,” he said.
High schools from Henley, Mazama, Grants Pass, North Medford, South Medford, Central Medford, Phoenix, Crater, Eagle Point and Ashland took part in the conference.
“This was a very successful year,” Chavez Baez said, enjoying the 70-student increase over last year.
He said the conference has enough student interest to grow, and the space to handle about 500, but there are several variables — funding foremost — that could restrict that.
“We’ll see what we can do to help support that,” Chavez Baez said. “We want to grow for sure.”
Reach freelance reporter Sam Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.