First national Dominican conference kicks off

This weekend marks the Dominican Students Association’s first-ever conference, the first step, its organizers say, in building a more connected network of Dominican college students.

About 400 students and recent graduates from more than 90 colleges and universities are expected to attend the first National Dominican Student Conference, which kicks off today and runs through Sunday. The weekend will serve to unify the Dominican communities on campuses nationwide, with a heavy emphasis on networking, organizers said.

Jamil Abreu ’08 — the conference’s organizer — said he saw that Dominican students are are isolated at many college campuses when he traveled across the nation and met students through his fraternity. For example, group of four or five students at Harvard may have a tight-knit community, he said, without knowing Dominican students at the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Bringing students and recent graduates together to network with each other is particularly important for Dominicans, Abreu said.

“A lot of us come from underprivileged backgrounds, or are first or second generation immigrants,” he said. “I saw a need for [the conference], people started talking about [it], interest started growing and there was eventually a tipping point effect.”

This weekend’s conference is not Abreu’s first attempt at unifying the Dominican community. Planning for the conference began a year ago, around the same time he created a national Facebook group for Dominican students. Abreu began posting events of interest to the community last April and asked people to spread the word to their friends. The group now boasts about 2,000 members and served as an important part of spreading the message about the conference, he said.

The conference will offer a range of workshops and talks, from a history of Dominicans in the U.S. to workshops on applying for internships and graduate school. A panel on effecting political change in both the United States and the Dominican Republic will include a current and a former president of the Dominican Chamber of Deputies, the equivalent of the American Speaker of the House.

Holding the conference at Yale was an obvious choice, Abreu said, partly since it made planning easier and also because of its central location for students coming from New York City, upstate New York and Boston. Students will come from schools — including public and community colleges — across the country, distinguishing it from similar conferences for different groups.

Conferences for Puerto Rican, Mexican and Colombian students have been held recently, but Abreu said the ones he has attended were closer to about 100 participants each, a quarter of the expected turnout this weekend.

Edgar Diaz-Machado ’09, who is not Dominican, said he had planned to attend the conference, though he was prevented by another commitment. He said there seems to have been a trend this year to have this type of community-building conference at Yale, but that none he knew of were on so large a scale as the Dominican one this weekend. The most interesting part of the program in Diaz-Machado’s eyes was a workshop on black and Latino solidarity, a topic he said is not discussed much.

But for Ramon Jarabacoa ’09, who is a member of the Dominican Students Association but who was not heavily involved in planning the conference, the highlight of the weekend will be the networking.

“If you want to start a business in the future, or travel, it’s good to know people across the country,” he said. “If I travel to another school, I’ll have a place to stay.”

Abreu said he hopes that in the future there will be similar conferences for Dominican students at other schools, and there are plans to create a foundation for that purpose.

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