Notes from the Symposium

dylyn-petersonBY DYLYN PETERSON
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong

I first arrived at the University at the beginning of the third session of the first annual Power and Privilege Symposium. Upon seeing the program, I was disappointed to see that every talk I wanted to attend conflicted with something more-or-less compulsory. During the fourth session, when my partner, Serena, was set to present, there were three I wanted to go to. Sigh. Suffice to say I am very pleased by the prospect of the Symposium being a two-day event next year.

By the time we arrived, all of the sessions were moved forward by fifteen minutes, but we waited in the Glacier View room for Ernestine Hayes’s and Lance Twitchell’s talk about colonialism in Southeast. The room next door was set up by Disability Services, with free caffeinated drinks and an atmosphere of calmness that seemed to leak out into the hallway, as a place to recollect oneself in case one of the sessions got too emotionally intense. I almost needed it. My only problem with their presentation was that we didn’t have very long to discuss afterwards. We were all sort of shell-shocked by horror stories of little girls being lifted by their hair as a punishment for speaking Tlingit.

I was beset by conflicted allegiances in the next session. Ultimately, though, I had to support Serena; besides, the topic she was presenting on, youth oppression, was interesting. I’ve just stopped being a youth. I don’t want to oppress them…too much. But to talk about her presentation, I need to talk about the steps she took to get there.

Signing up, she tells me, was pretty easy. She filled out a form online, and got approval to present within a couple days, and found out when and where she was presenting. She needed to change her synopsis a couple of times because of a couple phrases that were obviously loaned from faculty she has fallen out with, but that went smoothly. Beyond that, things were mostly silent. There were no meetings prior to the Symposium, or any real correspondence between the presenters. She found out about the finalized schedule the same way everybody else did.

Upon arriving in the room, she was greeted by a woman who said she was her assistant. Okay. Serena was never told that she needed or would be receiving an assistant, and in fact brought on her mother and one of her adult friends for backup, but a helping hand couldn’t be a bad thing. The assistant, though, pretty much just passed out a survey about the Symposium. It was a little strange.

Her biggest complaint was similar to mine: the Symposium lacked any feeling of cohesiveness. It felt like a bunch of independent agents had taken over UAS for a day, instead of a group meeting together to work toward a common goal. She said to me, “I’m afraid it felt like just another Juneau event — as if only two people knew what was going on…and they weren’t talking to each other.” There was no debriefing afterwards, or any kind of reward beyond the warm, fuzzy feeling of teaching somebody about how to be a better person. Personally, I’d’ve liked it if everybody got a fancy certificate, so they could inform the world that they aren’t so much social justice warriors as social justice generals.

She still loved it, though. I suppose it could be best described as akin to a jazz show; lightly preconceived, but executed with style.

Anyway, her presentation was great. She performed a number of skits describing inappropriate interactions with a youth with her mother in the role of a youth oppressor. It was very funny. There was a special guest appearance by a family friend who coordinates a youth group which is primarily run by the youth, and both the friend and Serena’s mom can confirm: left to their own devices, kids do not spontaneously turn into homicidal maniacs, a la Lord of the Flies. In fact, they do so well that, when describing it, Serena’s mother was brought to tears (of joy). My favorite anecdote from the talk was that the aforementioned youth group self-disciplines kids who don’t pay attention to others by having them sit in a circle, and everybody but the misbehaver says the name of their favorite color, or a superhero they admire. The punishment ends whenever the kid who started the whole thing can say them all accurately and in order. Cool.

After that, I took a break for lunch.

The presentations at the end were all great, especially the poet, Hieu Minh Nguyen, who I got to hang out with the following day. More on that later. His book, This Way to the Sugar, is awesome. I highly recommend it.

I hope we hold another one next year. If we do, count on me presenting on mental illness. It’ll be sad, but enjoyable.

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