The UI Center for Inclusive Academic Excellence showcases the art of Iowa youth

The 23rd Latin American Youth Meeting hosted workshops by University of Iowa students, an address by keynote speaker Dr. Denise Martinez, and an inaugural art contest. The competition winner’s art will be displayed in the Center for Inclusive Academic Excellence.

The University of Iowa Latinx Youth Summit on September 23 promoted the theme “Bienestar, Salud, y Sabiduria: Supporting the Well-Being of Young People with a new contest that encourages students to respond to the prompt with a piece of art.

This year’s winner is an artwork by Ariana from Griswold High School. The piece is titled “Symbol of Friendship” which is an interpretation of the Statue of Liberty.

The painting was submitted to the UI and will be on display in the Center for Inclusive Academic Excellence until the end of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Griswold High was unable to attend the meeting, said Alma Bernal, an academic coach for the UI Center for Inclusive Academic Excellence, but the student still reflected on the meaning of the piece.

“When asked about the piece, she said Lady Liberty represents friendship,” Bernal said. “Friendship is very important to our well-being. When you have friends, you have a sense of community, safety and home.’

Bernal attended the Latinx Youth Summit when she was in high school, but now she is part of the committee that plans the event.

“I just started my job here at the university in January,” Bernal said. “This is my first year planning the Latinx Youth Summit… It’s become a full-circle moment for me.”

Bernal said an important takeaway from the summit was representation. Representation comes from visiting students, college-level volunteers, and from panel topics such as “How to Manage Your College Wellbeing as a Latino Student.”

“The biggest thing I took away was being surrounded by people who look like me,” Bernal said. “[People] who were in positions in an academic way or were advocates for education or in different positions that I wouldn’t stereotypically see.’

Dennis Martinez, associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at Carver College of Medicine, was the keynote speaker at this year’s event and expanded on the theme of representation and well-being.

“When I was in their shoes, I was discouraged from pursuing what I wanted to pursue — being a doctor — because they told me I didn’t have what it took,” Martinez said.

Martinez said she made sure to emphasize that the kids have what it takes to succeed. Finding mentors, support and opportunities to take care of yourself is part of that success.

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“What I think is really important is helping students find their voice and understand what they have to contribute to society,” Martinez said.

The event hosted workshops by current UI students, including one co-facilitated by third-year student Erin Elizalde that focused on the intersections of culture and self-love.

“A lot of the focus was on how culture affects your self-image and how culture is a beautiful thing that you can use to find ways to appreciate and love yourself,” Elizalde said.

Elizalde is also a student assistant in the Center for Inclusive Academic Excellence and a partner leader for Iowa Edge.

Some of the questions used in the summit were intended to provoke self-reflection in students, she said.

The Latinx Youth Summit was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, but the past two years have seen greater participation, Bernal said. Last year’s meeting had 150 attendees, and the expected total for Latinx Youth Summit 2022 was 216, including chaperones.

“We actually scaled it back this year, in terms of catering and ordering T-shirts and ordering merchandise,” Bernal said. “We’re like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ because two weeks ago we didn’t have anyone signed up.”

The art competition is a new addition to the list of activities at the summit. In previous years, poster contests and story contests have taken their place.

“There wasn’t much interest in [the history competition] over the past few years,” Bernal said. “So I said, ‘Let’s get rid of that and maybe let’s try an art contest and see if that’s something,’ because it gives them a little more control and a little more allows me to interpret it my way.”

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