What Equity Means to Me: Victoria Torres

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Equity. It is a term heard a lot these days. And yet, if you ask 10 people what it means, you might get 10 different answers. As OCG prepares for our 2020 Summit, “Equity in Action: Stories of Innovation & Collaboration” we are pleased to share with you how different members of our community understand, and most importantly, put into practice, equity. Together, we can move Orange County forward, implementing and aligning with the 10 +1 next steps as recommended in the OC Equity Profile.

Our third blog post in the series comes from Victoria Torres, Director of Community Impact, Anaheim with the Samueli Foundation. Victoria also serves on the 2020 Summit Planning Committee and is a member of OCG.

What Equity Means to Me… And How Relates to Virtual Networking

How I’ve been affected by equity.

When I was a senior in high school, California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) came to our campus to do onsite recruitment. I did not fully understand what that meant, because when I showed up in the counseling center to learn more, Ms. Walker (a woman I will NEVER forget) was so excited to fit me into an afternoon spot that had just opened up! She frantically handed me the application and said “Here! Fill this out! Come back during 5th period. I will give you a hall pass to show your teacher.” I reviewed the application very quickly and saw the $55 fee that I had to provide as well. I told her I did not have a check with me today and asked if I could do this tomorrow. She said, “Today is their last day here. I will write you a check! Just bring one to me tomorrow.” Recalling this memory still brings tears to my eyes.

I finally met with the CSUF admissions representative. He reviewed my application, scrolled through my transcripts, commented “No C’s?”; and then reached his hand out to me and said, “Welcome to Cal State Fullerton.” And like that, I was accepted into college. I must admit…

I was annoyed!

What about my personal statement? My SAT scores? Letters of recommendation? All my extracurricular activities!? The ones that I pushed myself to do because that is what my teachers said were important! Nope… none of that was necessary; and I did not question why. I was just excited to go home and tell my parents that I had been accepted to a 4-year university.

It was not until years later, that I had learned about the scrutiny some colleges were receiving at that time, for not being intentional about accepting more students from local high schools, especially students of color. That the admissions process was too cumbersome and out of date. It made me wonder, was I quota? I had heard about affirmative action, but never once questioned how I may have benefited, after all… it was 2002!

I am thankful, however, that I did not know all this at the time of my acceptance. I went into college with the mindset of, “I am here because I earned it.” Not, “I am only here because they had to meet a statistic.” So what if I was. I still had to do the work, get the grades, and then go out and get the job. None of that changed. College was not easier because of how I got accepted.

So what does this have to do with equity?

To me, equity is about fairness. Equity is about being impartial. Regardless of what high school you went to, the color of your skin, or the amount of extracurricular activities you did. Sometimes, equity is created for us; and for that I am thankful. But I believe, equity is also something that can be created by ourselves.

Regardless of how I got to college, it has been the choices I’ve made since, that has made me the successful person, I believe I am today. It is the major I decided to pursue, the courses I took, and most importantly… the PEOPLE I met. I could have just gone to class, studied by myself, and then went home. If I had done that, I would have never met the professor that would coach me into my dream job, the future colleague that would serve as a valuable reference for that dream job, the best friend who would be the maid of honor at my wedding, and the list goes on.

So, what does this have to do with the summit?

Well, I know the one highlight of events like this Annual Summit, is the joy of gathering with one another. Chatting with old friends and meeting new faces. I know it will not be the same, but that should not be the reason you choose to skip out this year. Networking, even virtually, is how you can create equity for yourself. But it all depends on your effort. Are you going to just click on the link, watch the speaker and then log off? Or are you going to stand out! Are you going to comment in the chat, take yourself off mute, or boldly turn on your camara?

Networking, now more than ever, is crucial to our careers and organizational growth. Even if it is just being present, it tells people that are you still around and things are charging ahead during times like these. Building relationships should still be high on our priority list and places like the summit are chances to continue those relationship building techniques.

But how? My face is behind a computer!

Ok you got me there. Well… here a couple ways that people have networked with me virtually, that I have found to be memorable.

  1. Liking and Commenting on Posts – Many of you may be aware of the Facebook group I started back when COVID entered our lives. Since the creation of the group, there a couple of people that I have never met in person that have stood out. Not because of their photo or posts they have made in the group. But because of the comments they have made on MY posts. Right now, more than ever, people want to feel purposeful. So, if you see or read something that helped you, made an impact, or just made you smile, COMMENT! Upon registering for the summit, you will get access to the WHOVA app. Use it! Leverage its abilities to help you network during the summit.
  2. Took me up on my offer. – If someone says on call, “Here is my email, happy to connect and see how I can help.” Do it! They do not just say it to say it. I have shared this on almost every conference call I have been on since COVID, and you know how many people took advantage of it? THREE! If someone is showing interest, get to know them. Maybe they can help you, maybe they can’t… but I guarantee they might know someone that can! And THAT is networking.
  3. Messaged me in a private chat. – Be Bold. If you have the capacity to message someone privately while on a call, then do it! Pay attention of course. However, if someone made a compelling comment and you want to take the conversation offline, reach out to them! Ask for their contact info and then send a follow up email. The WHOVA app will also have the capability to share contact info among participants.
  4. Turned on the video, took themselves off mute, and asked a question. – Anyone can safely type in a chat box. But if you can ask the question yourself, be bold and turn on your video, unmute yourself and ask the question. You are more memorable this way.

Why does all this matter now?

Because one day… yes, one day… we will get back to face to face events. And when we do, you want your NAME to catch the attention of the people you encounter. There are people right now, if I heard their name, I would recognize them because they did one of the 4 things above to catch my attention. Which means, in an instant, I will have a connection with them like no one else.

There have been so many free and discounted resources provided to us in the past six months. But what have you done with them? Did you just sit and listen? Or did you try and connect? In the equity that was created for you and your organization, how did you use it to create equity for yourself?

I hope to “see” you at the summit. And not just your name on a list. 😊

More To Explore

How do we build a compassionate and inclusive America in an age of distrust? WAJAHAT ALI knows from personal experience that when we come together to be the superheroes of our own stories, we can create honest social change. The beloved TED speaker has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and The Atlantic about our urgent issues—immigration, politics, parenthood—with boldness, hope, and humor. His memoir Go Back to Where You Came From, one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Year, follows his life as a Muslim Pakistani-American on a surprising, emotional, and challenging quest for the good life. Iconic journalist Katie Couric says that “we are all so fortunate to be on the receiving end of his intellect, his humanity, and his heart.”

Wajahat Ali

“With wit and charm, Ali delivers a masterful meditation on growing up brown in America...he gives us a clear-eyed affirmation of the country America could be.” — Mara Gay, New York Times

Mara Gay, New York Times

Wajahat Ali uses his platform to fight tirelessly for the social change we need in our country—and he isn’t afraid to get personal while doing it. The Daily Beast columnist and former New York Times writer, TED speaker, award-winning playwright, and Peabody-nominated producer of the documentary series The Secret Life of Muslims offers us his experiences of triumph over hardship as a beacon of hope and resilience in the face of life’s impossible situations. From his experiences of Islamophobia growing up as a Muslim Pakistani-American to his two-year-old daughter’s liver cancer diagnosis, Wajahat is living proof that when we share our authentic stories, we build the America we wish to live in.”

In his memoir Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American, Wajahat teaches us how to create our own superhero origin story, invest in hope for the future of America, and enact real social change. The book was called “biting and funny and full of heart” by NPR. Representative Ilhan Omar called Wajahat’s work “hilarious” and “deeply moving”, and legendary writer Dave Eggers said it was the book he’d “been hoping Wajahat Ali would write for ten years—hilarious, stylistically fearless, deeply humane.”

Wajahat is also the author of The Domestic Crusaders—the first major play about Muslim-Americans in a post-9/11 world. He was the lead researcher and author for the Center for American Progress’s seminal report “Fear Inc., Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” and served as a national correspondent for Al Jazeera America, where he told stories about communities and individuals often marginalized or under-reported in mainstream media.

As Creative Director of Affinis Wajahat Labs, he worked to create social entrepreneurship initiatives to support and uplift marginalized communities. He also worked with the US State Department to design and implement the “Generation Change” leadership program to empower young social entrepreneurs. Wajahat initiated chapters in eight countries, including Pakistan and Singapore. For his work, he was honored as a “Generation Change Leader” by Sec. of State Clinton and recognized as an “Emerging Muslim American Artist” by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. 

He has given keynote speeches around the world such as TED, The Aspen Ideas Festival, Google, the United Nations, and The New Yorker Festival. His writing appears regularly in the New York TimesThe Atlantic, the Washington Post, and The Guardian. He’s a Senior Fellow at The Western States Center and Auburn Seminary and co-host of Al Jazeera’s The Stream.