For many disadvantaged communities, access to platforms of higher education and the confidence to apply is not attainable, but the Motivation Conference aims to mitigate this disparity.

The Asian Pacific Islander Student Alliance (APISA), a student organization that emphasizes unity and empowerment through awareness of the diverse communities on campus, will be hosting the 24th annual Motivation Conference beginning on April 20 at UC Santa Cruz. The three-day event supports the pursuit of higher education for under-resourced, low-income and disadvantaged Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander high school students in the Bay Area.

APISA is focusing on Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander students because the communities are often overshadowed by other Asian American and Pacific Islander and East Asian narratives, said Taylor O’Brien, Motivation Conference co-coordinator and UCSC third-year.    

“There are a lot of disparities between East Asians and Southeast Asian and Pacific Islanders and so by recognizing that, we hope to bring them to this campus and host a series of workshops that help bridge those gaps,” O’Brien said.

The program helps motivate students in their journey toward higher education, not just specifically to UCSC. It is non-yielding, meaning participants have not yet been accepted to UCSC. To make it more accessible, transportation, lodging and food are paid for. The Motivation Conference operates out of Engaging Education (e²), a student-initiated outreach and retention center for student engagement and academic excellence.

The theme for the conference is breaking boundaries and building bridges. It emphasizes breaking the generational boundaries of sacrificing the pursuit of higher education to help family members set by Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander communities, while building bridges of solidarity between Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders and other ethnic organizations on campus, O’Brien said.   

As a whole, the program will focus on how the model minority myth, a stereotype perpetuated against Asian-identified people, classifies them as naturally highly successful and educated achievers. This causes Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander individuals to be unrecognized, forgotten and underrepresented.

“It is often stereotyped that East Asians adhere to the law and are often submissive when it comes to supremacy or oppression […] East Asians often have a higher social status because of the way they navigate through the U.S. social system and class system,” O’Brien said. “They often have less barriers to accessing education or resources to education and so with that they overshadow Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders because we are not [seen as] the model minority.”

By promoting higher education, the conference allows students to disrupt violent systems of oppression and creates a safe and brave space by surrounding participants with role models they can look up to, according to the Motivation Conference website.

The goal of the conference, O’Brien said, is to give attendees the resources they need to graduate high school and find agency within themselves to achieve whatever they want in life and know they have the ability to follow their own path.