Conference Inspires Students to Become Socially Aware

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(Photo by Chris Ayers)

By Kylee Ehmann

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(Photo by Chris Ayers)
(Photo by Chris Ayers)

ASUU hosted its 11th annual Conference on Social Awareness (COSA), inviting members of the U’s community to learn about social justice issues and become more socially aware.

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This year’s COSA focused on topics investigating diversity and its impact on social awareness. The conference included social media-based presentations such as “Maintaining Feminism in Television” and “Beyond the Selfie Generation.” Additionally, the conference hosted Utah’s “school-to-prison pipeline” and included a discussion on generational trauma in Native American populations, led by the Utah Tribal Leaders Council. According to ASUU, the total cost of the event was $6,500.

Jennifer Adams, Ms. Wheelchair America 2014, kicked off the conference by giving this year’s motivational speech to approximately 50 attendees. Adams was born with partial limbs and spoke about the stereotypes and lack of access to gainful employment and financial aid she and other people with disabilities face in the U.S.

Nubia Pena, a COSA presenter and law student at the U, said the goal of the day was to “not only educate, but to empower.” Pena presented on the “school-to-prison pipeline,” which is the notion that the way schools discipline students with disabilities and students of color directly impacts drop-out and incarceration rates.

The message of the event was to utilize effective education by having those attending be actively engaged in activism and awareness.

“Unless you are willing to put mouth to action, it’s not going to do anything,” Pena said.

This year’s COSA ended with a keynote speech by Elon James White, an activist, writer and CEO of This Week in Blackness. White used social media platforms to cover events in Ferguson to counteract what was viewed as a biased narrative in mainstream media.

White said the benefits of using social media to portray social issues is he is “allowed to call out” behavior he views as problematic without answering to an executive power. White said he views these platforms as a way to help disrupt a single narrative and open the possibility of diversity within each situation.

White ended the conference by echoing COSA’s message of action and encouraged individuals to make use of their resources to make a difference.

“What I do right now could not exist 10 years ago. What can you do when you walk out of this room and in your day-to-day interactions?” White asked. “We live in an era where you can do anything if you care enough.”

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