BY KASEY CHEN
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
On November 9, the UAS campus will see its first Power and Privilege Symposium, a conference aimed at encouraging UAS and Juneau community members to speak and learn about issues relating to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, age, religion, body size, ability, mental illness, class, and their intersectionalities. The Symposium will consist of keynote speeches and breakout sessions with experts as well as presentations from UAS students.
The co-chairs of the Power and Privilege planning committee are Student Activities Coordinator Tara Olsen, and First Year Experience Advisor Nathan Bodenstadt. After hearing about Whittier College’s Power and Privilege Symposium at the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) Convention, Olsen was inspired to bring the tradition to UAS. Bodenstadt was brought on board shortly after thereafter.
“My undergraduate background was in Social Sciences and Communications, Psychology, Stereotyping and Prejudice, and my masters degree is in Education, so I see these systems of power and privilege working out in our daily lives and effecting students that come onto campus, and I help train student staff members who are working with a diverse array of students regularly. Through a lot of that I’ve realized how important it is to have conversations about power and privilege, and so when the opportunity came up to have a broader campus discussion, I jumped on board,” said Bodenstadt about his involvement.
Most classes are cancelled the day of the event to allow students and faculty to attend the Symposium. An event of this nature is unprecedented on campus, but Olsen and Bodenstadt saw it as necessary. Bodenstadt explained, “This could have absolutely been a night event, or a one off or only done in certain programs, but we see power and privilege as something that effects everyone equally and in different ways, and so if it effects us all, we should all be talking about it, and giving us all the opportunity to engage throughout the day is important.”
The opening keynote speaker for the day is Andrew James Archer, Field Faculty Instructor for the Social Work department at University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of the 2013 memoir, “Pleading Insanity.” Archer will discuss the intricacies of societal influence on the rise of mood disorders in the United States. Following Archer, the afternoon Keynote speaker is UAS’s own Assistant Professor of Alaska Native Studies, Mique’l Dangeli. Danglei will touch on Northwest Coast First Nations people’s methods of employing ancient practices to assert land claims through song and dance, and how they have dealt with the oppression and marginalization of these practices. The closing keynote speaker, Aiden Key, will discuss his experience relating to his own gender transition, as well a broader discussion about the experiences of those who fall outside of society’s expected gender norms. The day will conclude with an evening performance.
Students were prompted to submit their own ideas for presentations, for which they will receive 50-minute time slots during the symposium. The event will most likely see healthy involvement from those not presenting as well, since many professors have asked students to complete symposium-related assignments.
Those planning the event are expecting some possible pushback due to the controversial nature of the topics discussed, but are welcoming it as a natural part of an event of this type. “Whenever you spark a discussion, you also can spark debate and controversy, and that’s on one hand exciting and on the other hand kind of scary, but I think having spirited debate kind of helps all of us improve,” said Bodenstadt.
The event could manifest itself as a yearly fixture on campus. According to Bodenstadt, “There’s support for making this a multi-year event, and having a symposium every year. What we’d love to see is that the Power and Privilege Symposium is baked into the academic calendar. Wouldn’t that be amazing if we weren’t canceling classes and that it was just part of our semester?”
The symposium will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., giving students the opportunity to attend the sessions that interest them most throughout the day. Those coordinating the event have high hopes for the reach of the message expressed by the symposium. “Power and Privilege both are hard things to talk about and I think that there’s a real opportunity for more engaged dialogue on campus. I think there’s a subset of students who talk about this, but not everyone, and I think power and privilege, even though it might sound like a ‘social science’ type of thing, it affects you no matter what type of thing you’re doing. I hope that this event sparks a conversation that lasts more than one day.”
“Power and Privilege Symposium.” University of Alaska Southeast. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.