Everyone needs a place that brings them comfort and inspiration. For many, the Pacific Islander Student Alliance Conference is that place. Run and founded by students, PISACON brings people together from colleges and universities throughout Oregon and Washington to discuss issues facing the future of Pacific Islander communities. 

According to Oregon State student and PISACON20 co-chair Ruta Faifaiese, “PISACON is a space where Pacific Islander/ Indigenous Pacific students and staff share community and empower one another to navigate a system that wasn’t built for us. It means we finally have the opportunity to connect as people and to learn from each other’s individual experiences.” 

Hosted for the first time at Oregon State University in March, this year’s conference centered around identity and climate change, a topic that poses distinct threats for Pacific Islanders. 

Director of Diversity & Cultural Engagement Reagan Le says the impacts of climate change — rising sea levels, potential displacement and increased ocean pollution — are not being prioritized, especially for Pacific Islanders. And the same goes for supporting and elevating their personal narratives. 

“This idea often gets lost within the Asian and Pacific Island American diaspora,” he says. “We need to build more awareness about the challenges, inequities and injustices Pacific Islanders face.” 

Several PISACON20 presenters tackled the concepts of climate change and identity through discussions on the impacts of colonialism on mental health, the power of storytelling in the fight against climate change, disrupting white supremacy, and the intersections between racism, classism and climate change, among others. 

The most beneficial aspect of the conference — especially for students like Faifaiese — was the chance to build meaningful relationships with students from other schools. 

“To be in a space with people who look like me and relate to me is something that lacks at most of our institutions, so PISACON allows us to decolonize the space just by being who we are and embracing each other,” she says. 

Le adds that hosting on campus gave Oregon State a unique experience to share the work the university is doing to better serve Pacific Islander students. This includes the creation of Pacific Islander studies, the munk-skukum Indigenous Living- Learning Community, Asian & Pacific Cultural Center, Native American Longhouse Eena Haws, Pacific Islander Club and Hui-O-Hawaii Club. 

These changes, along with PISACON, are a step toward making Pacific Islander students feel at home here. But we have more work to do.