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Diversity Conference Draws Experts From Around The World

For The Heights

Published: Sunday, October 21, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

Academics from across the nation and even the world converged at Boston College on Friday and Saturday for the 12th annual Diversity Challenge Conference. Sponsored by BC’s Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture, a subsidiary of the Lynch School of Education, the conference featured over 90 presentations related to this year’s theme: “What to Do About Race and Culture and Violence.”
The conference drew 148 presenters from colleges and universities across the world as well as numerous audience members.

“I love this event in the way it brings people together from so many different places,” said Susan Ginivisian, Diversity Challenge Committee member and organizer.

The subject of the presentations was no less diverse. Taking place in Yawkey Center’s Murray Room as well as Campion and McGuinn Halls, they covered a wide range of topics at the intersection of race, culture, and violence. From the plight of homosexual Arabs in the Middle East to clinical interventions with gang youth, the topic’s broadness allowed for a wide assortment of presentations.

Yet even in the face of such variety, the conference remained consistently participatory. Luncheon poster sessions allowed participants to browse through a wide assortment of more casual presentations. The conference also hosted workshops, in which the audience would break into small groups to discuss their reactions to and the implications of a particular topic following a presentation, and even the more formal lectures allowed for audience reflection and questions.

Event organizers favor this setting, which gives the conference a sense of intimacy. “There’s a perception that this is a smaller conference, where people get a chance to come together and have their words be validated,” said presenter Carlton E. Green.

He acknowledged the discomfort that the topic often induces. “When race comes up, people get hesitant,” Green said. “They start to think, Is this going to offend somebody? People do a lot of self-monitoring around race.” He also added the advantage the conference’s format offers, however. “This conference, in a lot of ways, gives people permission [to discuss race] they don’t have other places,” he said.

Conference coordinator Alesha Harris expressed a similar sentiment. “I think this is one of the few conferences that allows a safe space to talk about issues that are challenging to people: race and culture,” she said. “There is still a lack of language to discuss these issues, and this conference fills the gap.”
Organizers hope that the promotion of this dialogue will encourage participants to fight these issues in their own institutions after the conferences close. At the conclusion of Green’s presentation, he and co-presenter Maryam M. Jernigan asked the audience to consider their topic of racial trauma in the educational setting with regard to their own institutions, posing the question, “What would this look like on my campus?” and challenging them to formulate an action plan combatting the problem of racial trauma.

The theme of taking action against violence appeared again and again. Presenter Alison Crosby of York University spoke on the topic during her presentation on violence against women in Guatemala.

“We need to think of violence as deeply historical, as deeply structured, rooted in our culture,” she said. “I want to focus on everyday patterns of violence, our tendency to separate violence from social studies, and to think of suffering as deeply collective, not individual.

“We realize our relationship to the pain of others is not a simple experience. It is a very complex, contested relationship.”
The frank discussion of violence and racism permitted by the conference offered a sense of hope that these issues can and will be resolved. Its celebratory conclusion Saturday night, featuring a diverse set of performances—including BC’s all-female step team, F.I.S.T.S., and a poetry performance by Rayana Grace, A&S ’13—highlighted the optimism promoted by the conference’s dialogue.

Irma Alicia Velasquez Nimatuj said at the conclusion of her presentation, “I don’t know the answers. But I pose it to you as a challenge we can work on together.”

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