Latinas in Leadership Focused on Community Healing  

It might seem odd to have dozens of women simultaneously stare at their reflections in their iPhones. But at the annual Latinas in Leadership Conference, that’s exactly what the crowded room of around 400 people did. Dr. Desiree Zerquera, the Assistant Professor in the School of Education at USF, asked every woman in the room to pull out their phones and join together in this intimate moment of reflection.


Zerquera asked the audience to look at themselves and reflect on the question, “Who is the woman you represent to the outside world?” She then asked the audience to look internally and  “connect with our layers of who we are.” This activity set the stage for the rest of the conference, much of which echoed the message of love for oneself and one’s culture.  


The conference this year featured presenters who were app developers, therapists, artists and directors of foundations across the Bay Area about being a Latina in their professions. They shared personal narratives, like the keynote speaker, Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca, the founder of the DREAMers RoadMap, who described how her struggles as an undocumented student taught her it is okay to cry. She said, “We’re told to be strong, but we have so much inside us. Let our emotions guide us.”


Other speakers like Carmen Aceves-Iñiguez, a Marriage and Family Therapist, offered advice on the necessity of taking care of oneself. “We pay a price when we do not take care of our self,” she said.


Crystal Vega, a senior Critical Diversity Studies and Urban Studies major, said she felt admiration for the presenters. “It is great seeing them be vulnerable with us in this space,” Vega said. Denise Diaz, in the Higher Education and Student Affairs graduate program, agreed. “It’s powerful and beautiful to see a room of women of color.”


Attendance was open to the public. There were high schoolers, students from other colleges and people from all around the Bay Area. The Latinas in Leadership Conference was hosted by USF’s Office of Diversity and Community Engagement.


The conference’s intent was to offer a space that addresses and advances pathways for “diverse and disproportionately represented San Franciscans,” as the event’s vision statement program described.


This is the response to the hundreds of Latina students, faculty, and staff that I have worked with who have told me that there not enough platforms to tell their stories,” said Dr. Mary Wardell-Ghirarduzzi, Vice Provost of the Office of Diversity Engagement and Community Outreach.


“The theme shifted with the times, and in response to our community’s needs, to have a focus on cultural healing,” according to Monica Paez, an intern for the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement. Paez said that this shift is in response to the stress that members of the USF community feel as a result of recent federal decisions that affect the Latinx community, including increased ICE raids, the proposed creation of a border wall and the uncertainty of the DACA program. “The conference became more about how we can support others,” Paez said.


The process of organizing this conference started with the Office of Diversity and Community Engagement reaching out to organizations on and off campus. The conference committee had representatives from student-led organization, like Latinas Unidas and Lambda Theta Nu. Also present was the Chicana Latina Foundation, a nonprofit that “promotes professional and leadership development of Latinas,” according to their website. Those on the committee to plan this conference reflect the various voices of students, staff, faculty, and community members. “To come together as powerful Latinas,” Paez said.

Featured Photo: USF graduate student Ariana Alvarez and USF student Diana Delacruz attended the 4th annual Latinas in Leadership conference where women in power positions spoke to empower women of color. USFSLE/FLICKR

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