In 2017, the Pacific Islander Student Alliance (PISA) revitalized PISA Conference (PISACON) with the the goal to sustain our leadership within our colleges and universities. The goal then was to host a conference that was student centered, but staff led. However, the goal was to also make a transition from student centered to student led in three years time. After PISACON18 at Portland Student University and PISACON19 at University of Washington, we began the transition of finding student leaders to help us make that transition.
After some searching, we were blessed to run into Kevin Aipopo and Ruta Faifaiese. Two student leaders who showed a passion to move beyond the stereotypical dancing and singing that have long plagued our college campuses.
During the summer of 2019, Kevin and Ruta were able to receive training with our global Pacific Climate Warrior (PCW) team in Australia and Fiji. Working closely with Simeon Jacob, our local coordinator, Ruta and Kevin entered the initial phase of PISACON work by establishing themselves as the new members of PCW.
In reflection of their work PCW staff member and PISACON20 Talanoa, Joseph Sikulu, mentions, “Ruta, Kevin, and Simeon all model something different within our work. Whether it’s Ruta’s strength, Kevin’s connection to story, or Simeon’s creativity, all three show how bringing together everyone’s strengths can manifest through the production of powerful work. As Pacific Climate Warriors, this is what we have come to know of our Portland team and what we are so proud of. “
Returning to the US and a new school year, the real work began. Kevin and Ruta would begin their journey as the Navigators of PISACON 2020. Countless hours of weekly meetings with a constant routine for these student leaders, who are also excellent students in the classroom, maintaining GPA’s above 3.0.
PISACON18 coordinator, Kaina Barba, mentions, “When students like Ruta and Kevin heed the call and organize, engage, and uplift our family, there is no greater gift.“
PISA founder, Makerusa Porotesano, also added, “When we made the transition from student centered to student led, we were worried that we hadn’t created enough support for Ruta and Kevin, but the reality is, they paved their own path and left all of us with no doubt that the leadership of PISACON2020 was in the right place, with the students”.
Adding to the praise and recognition of Ruta and Kevin’s leadership during this whole process, many advisers and student colleagues have all been involved with helping our two student leaders.
This year’s PISACON couldn’t have been possible without the leadership of our two student leaders. Reagan Le, the Asian Pacific Cultural Center Director, says Ruta, “… is as real as it gets and I’m always in awe of how she shows up un-apologetically as she uses her voice as a form of activism…”
and from Makerusa on Kevin, “Kevin’s development during this process of leading PISACON has showcased what we’ve known all along, that he is the best of our movement” and “along with Ruta, there’s nothing that can’t happen when those two are the helm.
From the bottom of our hearts, PISA is beyond thankful for your leadership, compassion, and patience. From all of us, THANK YOU.