Students and Alumni of Color (SAOC), a Princeton School of Public and International Affairs graduate student-led organization, held its 22nd annual Symposium on April 7-8, 2018. The mission of SAOC is to bring together students, alumni and faculty to promote diversity, build relationships, discuss issues relevant to the social, political and professional development of students of color and support the social and political development of communities of color at Princeton.
In recent years, social movements have taken the globe by storm. Whether we look to the Movement for Black Lives, the Women’s March, the March for Our Lives or Dakota Access Pipeline activism, people around the world are inspired by historical movements and demanding political change. However, we recognize that building multi-ethnic, inclusive and transnational movements is not easy.
The 2018 SAOC Symposium, “What Wall?: Overcoming Real and Perceived Barriers,” focused on examples of equitable historical movements and how to build and lead diverse coalitions. The symposium enabled more than 160 students, alumni, admitted students and panelists to engage in meaningful discussions around topics important to them.
To kick off the weekend, keynote speaker, Joshua DuBois MPA ’05, described his path to becoming director of faith-based and neighborhood partnerships for President Barack Obama. Before achieving professional success, DuBois felt like many Princeton students – that he was an imposter among his talented and impressive classmates. In terms of building social movements across differences, DuBois encouraged attendees to “learn the history of the walls you seek to break down” and acknowledge that you must be “a little foolish, a little crazy” to even try. The masters program itself, he added, is “an incubator for wall-breakers.”
Next, two panel discussions featured alumni, activists, historians, urban planners and academics. During the first panel, “Building Movements in Fractured Times,” Melissa Valle, Antonio Lopez and Marcos Marrero MPA ’07 reflected on what interconnected, global, and multiracial movement building has looked like for Afro-Colombians, migrants and residents on the Mexican-American border and Puerto Ricans. Moderator Fred Wherry MPA ’00 challenged the idea of thinking of the present political moment as fractured while Marrero described the urgency of marginalized communities coming together as a “matter of survival.”
The second panel, “Making Your Coalition Move,” featured Perris Straughter MPA ’07, Marcia Chatelain and Ricky Hurtado MPA ’15, and discussed the common challenges faced by activists across the LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter and immigrant rights movements. Moderator Lisette Nieves MPA ’01 began by telling audience members they could be “tomorrow’s accidental organizers.” Marcia Chatelain noted that communities need to increase civility by “interacting with real people so that they don’t become disposable” when challenges arise.
Each year at the symposium, SAOC presents the Edward P. Bullard Award to a graduate alum who is an exemplary mentor in the School's community. The 2018 honoree is Laura Taylor-Kale MPA’ 03. In addition to her long track record of mentorship, Taylor-Kale is particularly appreciated by the graduating MPA class; she served as the convocation speaker and taught a highly regarded policy workshop on energy policy in Sub-Saharan Africa. During the awards ceremony, Taylor-Kale shared the importance of overcoming walls we build in our own lives and careers. She received a standing ovation for her moving speech.
This year’s symposium also featured two new and exciting components: an alumni panel focusing on the intersection of gender and racial identity in the workplace and a closing plenary conversation with lawyer and activist Chaumtoli Huq. The four alumni – Toni de Mello MPA-URP ’08, Summer Lopez MPA ’08, Midori Valdivia MPA ’08, and Mozelle Thompson MPA-J.D. ’80– shared personal anecdotes and engaged with the audience during an interactive conversation moderated by Sepideh Soltaninia MPA ’19. During the closing plenary, Varsha Gandikota MPA ’19 interviewed Chaumtoli Huq, the acclaimed lawyer behind Law@the Margins. Huq motivated the audience to remain committed to solidarity in social movements, which she defined as “making space for everyone’s pain.” Attendees left the symposium feeling reinvigorated to take on the important work of building inclusive movements.
We, as the symposium organizers, consider the weekend a huge success – thanks to the tireless efforts of students and support from staff in the Graduate Program Office. Most importantly, we are glad that all attendees, like us, left the symposium feeling inspired and energized.