In 1986, when then Assistant Provost for Academic Affairs and Social Equity Howard Gordon ’74 M’78 was approached by then Student Affairs employee Tyrone Holmes M’89 about starting an educational leadership program that brought together students from all backgrounds, he had no idea that they were establishing a transformative program that would be thriving 30 years later.
“We wanted to create a program that gave students a forum to demonstrate what they knew, who they were and what their interests were,” Gordon said. “Tyrone had asked me, ‘How do we develop our students as leaders?’ We empowered them to develop their own programs and events. That this program is around 30 years later and has expanded to be a weeklong celebration is because of the students themselves. They deserve the credit for that.”
Read related story: Gordon Receives Lifetime Award of Merit from the OAA.
This year, the program, now called African, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) Student Leadership Conference, celebrates 30 years of lectures, workshops, presentations, performances and other activities that highlight the variety of cultures on the campus. Its theme for 2016 was “Diamond in the Rough.”
“For a conference to last this long, it’s like a diamond,” said Maggie Rivera ’92 M’06 CAS ’07, the college’s student involvement coordinator. “It’s hard to find a diamond among the rocks. Students over the years have had to overcome many challenges to get the conference where it is today.”
Throughout the years, the SUNY Oswego celebration has served as a model for other colleges and universities. Students from such colleges as Syracuse University, SUNY Binghamton, Finger Lakes Community College and Cornell University have participated in SUNY Oswego’s events and have gathered ideas from organizers on how to establish or improve their own campus’ multicultural events, Gordon said.
While the specific ALANA week events change from year to year, a few activities have become traditions, including the Unity Peace Walk, the Fashion Show, the Banquet Gala and the educational workshops and presentations.
“The success of the program can’t be measured alone on its longevity,” Gordon said. “Its success is reflected in participation and what the student organizers and participants get out of the experience.”
When he met last spring with the student organizers of this year’s conference, Gordon said he could feel the electricity in the room—not just in the excitement of the students, but in himself.
“I was feeling that they would always remember this experience,” he said. “The passion in these students is similar to what we saw in the students 30 years ago and to what I hear from alumni who were involved with ALANA. Their passion, ability to solve problems and deal with adversity have taken this program to heights I never would have dreamed of.”