UCR Hosts 27th Annual Rivera Conference

By Laila Rashid, CHASS Dean’s Office Student Intern
February 13, 2015

In her third year as the Tomás Rivera endowed chair, Professor Tiffany López carries the unique responsibility of upholding the legacy of Tomás Rivera, the youngest and first minority chancellor in the UC system appointed at UCR from 1979-1985.

As someone who grew up as a migrant farm worker and went on to achieve a doctorate, Rivera coined the term “civic morality,” the idea that anyone who has the privilege of being educated also has the responsibility to inspire others in the community. “We are morally responsible for understanding we are one in a chain of change,” said López.

Part creative artist and part scholar, López’s work focuses on issues about trauma and violence while also thinking creatively about community engagement. In addition to being professor of theatre, film and digital production, she is also the founding director of the Segundo Jueves Play Project at the Culver—a project that has attracted the larger community and stemmed from her position as endowed chair. Semi-annually, López teaches a seminar in the life and work of Tomás Rivera, where she works with students on the Rivera papers.

One of her most important charges is to direct the annual Tomás Rivera Conference, established by Rivera’s widow, Concha Rivera, in conjunction with members of the campus and Riverside community who wanted a forum to continue the conversations that Rivera initiated during his career. The 27th conference will be held next Friday on February 20 and centers around the theme of Latinos and wellness.  The conference, driven by the concept of the master class workshop, serves to celebrate Rivera and put a spotlight on issues relevant to his mission, such as community engagement, advances in higher education, and thinking about how we can use our education to become leaders. “By wellness, we want to think about issues of medicine and health, topics central to new directions on campus and in the inland empire,” said López.

In addition to workshops involving topics about physicians on the frontlines, mental health diagnosis and treatment, elder and hospice care, addiction and recovery, health advocacy through music, storytelling and community wellness, and building personal and communal fiscal health, the program will include a movie screening and performances by members of the Grammy Award-winning group Quetzal.

“We are grateful to have such amazingly talented and passionate workshop facilitators, keynote speakers, and performers,” said Arlene Cano Matute, social/cultural programmer for Chicano Student Programs who have long been a partner and conference participant of this annual event. “Our students will leave feeling empowered and reminded that they have a community of support outside of UCR as much as they do inside,” she said.

Jennifer Nájera, assistant professor of ethnic studies, attended the conference last year and is amazed by how expansive it has become. “Professor López has a lot of connections within the Latino arts community and works hard to really draw from these resources and bring them to UCR,” she said. “This conference is one of the few spaces where students can bridge what they’re learning on campus with a broader sense of community knowledge.”

On Thursday, February 19 at the Culver Center, Luis Alfaro, a MacArthur Genius Fellow and one of the most important playwrights in American theater will perform his solo play St. Jude, a performance about caring for his father in the wake of a heart surgery and the lessons he learned from this.

“The best part is actually having the opportunity to bring people together for conversations that have already begun to create seeds of change,” said López. “There have also been several networking relationships that have evolved and resulted in students gaining internships and jobs from the people they met at the conference.”

Estefani Castro, a fourth year student majoring in media and cultural studies at UCR, first got involved with the Rivera conference last year when López provided opportunities for students to volunteer. Castro found the experience so beneficial she now works as a producing intern for the conference, and expresses excitement for this year’s events. “Each workshop will attract it’s own specific group of students,” she said. “For example, in the music writing workshop, students will be able to work directly with the members of Quetzal to explore how music relates to our wellness.”

When asked about the importance of the conference, Castro highlighted the legacy of Tomás Rivera. “As a student, the conference is really important to me not only because I’m working on it, but also because it’s celebrating what Tomás Rivera did at UCR when he was chancellor,” she said. “A lot of times minority students are shown the ceiling, but I think the legacy of Tomás Rivera shows them the sky. It’s also a chance for students to experience and hear about the work of important figures to see if any of those career paths resonate with them.”

All events are free and open to the public. On-site registration for Friday’s conference will begin at 10:30 a.m. in Highlander Union Building 302 but early reservations are highly recommended at tomasriveraconference.ucr.edu as confirmed registration is encouraged by the morning of the conference to reserve lunch and participation in Master Class Workshops. The events will conclude at 5 p.m. and parking will be available for $6 in Lot 30 and $8 in Lot 6. Parking permits may be purchased at kiosks at the University Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard entrances to campus.

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