With a theme of “breaking barriers,” the third annual New York State Latino Leadership Summit on Saturday featured prominent alumni, lectures from executives and workshops meant to give attendees tools to overcome obstacles they face as Latinx students at Cornell.
Keynote speaker Cristina Bañuelos, a Cornell alumna and research training award fellow at the National Institute of Health, told a crowd of about 50 students in Sage Hall that it took her a while to overcome “imposter syndrome” — a feeling that she did not belong in an academic environment of the brightest minds.
Bañuelos, who came to Cornell from a small town in Texas, overcame the self-destructive feeling, she said, by continuing to work hard and finding a strong support system among her peers.
Cid Wilson, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, told students that they should be “agents of change” and always give back to the community.
“If you are the only Latino in the room, you have an obligation to speak up,” Wilson said.
Esperanza Wilson ’14 led a workshop discussion on how to identify and respond to microaggressions, a conversation that resonated with attendees.
In one scenario, Wilson described a moment when gender discrimination in the workplace led to a debate on whether “positive discrimination” existed.
Those in the workshop generally agreed that “positive discrimination” — when, for example, a woman in a leadership position hires another well-qualified woman to help her get ahead in her career — is not discrimination, but a necessary action resulting from the lack of women in leadership positions.
“Due to the lack of equality in the workplace, women should be encouraged to speak so that there can be better dialogue,” said Juliette Ramirez Corazon, advising dean in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Theresa Flores ’93, public affairs manager at Mary Kay, rounded out the speakers list by imploring students to put themselves in uncomfortable situations and take risks.
“Your story, your history has an impact,” Flores said. “Keep telling it no matter who you may make uncomfortable.”
Flores, who said she first attended a political rally at 14 and served as a congressional aide at 16 in Washington, D.C., said the freedoms and rights of Latinx people are being threatened across the country.
“Don’t take your freedom for granted — it’s being threatened today — right now,” she said. “States are trying and they are succeeding at making it harder for you to vote. … Don’t squander that right.”
Dania Alvarez ’18, one of the organizers of the summit, said the third annual summit — the second at Cornell — is an important event to unify multiple Latinx organizations on campus.
The summit is meant to “help everyone be inspired, be motivated, and be aware of how to maximize any event or project that they have in mind for their communities,” Alvarez said.
“What really resonated with me from what Cid Wilson said this morning is, if you’re the only Latino in the room, make sure you’re not the last Latino there,” she added. “Wherever we go … wherever we succeed, make sure that you help others succeed after you as well.”
Steven Martinez, grad, said most students at the conference — as a virtue of attending Cornell — were likely to move on to good jobs, but that the speakers and the workshops were meant to help students to reach the very top.
“Most students here are going to get good jobs — that’s not the concern,” he said. “What we want to do is help people transition from middle management to senior management, and that’s not easy.”