Thoughts on the Power and Privilege Symposium

BY SUHIEDY (SU) REYES
Peer Advisor & SAB Member
For the UAS Whalesong

As a current member of our Student Activities Board and a past Student Activities staff I was delighted to hear about the Power & Privilege Symposium coming to UAS. The Power & Privilege Symposium (P&P Symposium) was adapted to our UAS campus from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington and came to our campus by way of our Student Activities Board. As a board, we sent two students to our regional conference (National Association of Campus Activities- West) and through the education sessions there, one of our staff members Tara Olson and one of the students, Felix Thillet Jr. learned about this symposium from the Whitman College students themselves.

HISTORY

A brief history of the P&P symposium from Whitman College: Whitman’s first symposium was in 2006 and was called a Race Symposium. The symposium was an emergency symposium in response to an event where two students showed up to a party in blackface, which sparked a lot of anger on campus. Fast forward to 2013, a group of students (mostly minorities) wanted to bring a symposium back and called it the Power & Privilege Symposium. These students were passionate about the subject and did this on their own, even though they had work or school. They protested when their board of trustees were meeting which led to the faculty cancelling classes for the symposium that year. Since then, Whitman puts on a P&P Symposium every year and is now a two-day event!

UAS P&P SYMPOSIUM

I remember both Tara and Felix coming up to me once they had heard about this from Whitman college and were super excited and saying to me that they were going to bring this up to the University! I was bummed that I had missed a session like that because the symposium seemed like such an interesting idea.

Once we came back, they had hit the ground running and spread the word out to our Campus Life staff, our faculty, and even our Chancellor! This was going to be our first Power & Privilege Symposium and I was excited for how this was going to shake up our campus.

The 1st Annual UAS Power & Privilege Symposium was a one day conference-style teach-in designed to give members of the UAS & Southeast Alaska communities an opportunity to come together and engage in difficult, thoughtful, and honest conversation about the ways social hierarchies and identities manifest themselves in our communities.

The following information was given to me via Tara Olson.

This event was monumental for our campus for a couple reasons:

• This was the first time in recent history (12+ years) that UAS chose to cancel classes in favor of a campus-wide teach-in. A day for the entire campus community to come together and explore issues of power & privilege and work toward a more understanding, welcoming, and safer campus for all.

• The scale of the event was huge for UAS. Roughly 12 hours of discussions, lectures, and workshops; 3 keynotes; 28 breakout sessions; a de-brief session (Facilitated Group Dialogue); and a spoken word poetry performance. 435 people were able to attend in person! A wide range of topics were covered, including: race, age, mental health, gender, education, sexuality, nationality, decolonization, human rights, civility, etc.

We had nearly 90 students, staff, faculty, and community members who came together to make this event possible: 56 presenters (not including all of our panel members for sessions like Aimee’s First Gen. College Students Panel); 35 volunteers who helped set-up, clean-up, welcome attendees at the registration table, and assist presenter’s in each session; & 20(+) individuals on the planning committee who met bi-weekly for nearly a year to ensure the success of this event.

Attendance-wise, we had 435 people attend the event in-person, and even more who chose to stream the event online via distance (see graph below for breakdown by session). Over 50% of attendees were UAS students.

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Nearly 200 UAS students, staff, and faculty members have submitted feedback on the event through an evaluation e-mailed to the campus community. Findings from this evaluation will be used in planning for and improving next year’s event.

MY OWN THOUGHTS

As a sociology major, this event was exciting to see come to our campus! Here is a day were we (as students, staff and faculty) were going to come together outside of class or meetings and have a discussion based around all sorts of different topics!

I presented a session on Examining Race & Ethnicity on UAS. Overall it was a great session. We had an assistant if needed, but we pretty much just had a power point and ourselves. The room was organized in a way that everyone could see each other and the presenters as half of our session was discussion based. For topics such as ours, 50 minutes was not enough but when it comes to the topic of race & ethnicity, there really is never enough time!

After my own presentation, I hit a few more which were ‘The Culture of Negative Connotations of Feminism’ and ‘Living in the Binary: Gender in Everyday’. I also went briefly to Aidan Key Keynote but had to leave early due to catching my flight! In both of the sessions I attended I could hear the passion from students in the discussion and was filled with joy when faculty or staff would ask students about their experiences and how we can use these sessions to make our campus a better place. Specifically in ‘Living in the Binary’, I learned a lot more of how we ‘DO’ gender in our everyday life. Realizing more and more how easy it is for myself to ‘DO’ gender while there are others out in the world who fight within themselves and have to think about what they are going to wear or how to present themselves! These sessions really opened my mind to others thought and perceived ideas and concepts. It also allowed people to ask questions and figure out what they could on an individual level to combat any issues that were presented.

Overall, I am excited that the Power & Privilege Symposium was done at our school. Since this was our first P&P, some kinks still need to be worked out and from the evaluations that people filled out there will no doubt be some great suggestions on how to make it better in the future!

Lastly, I personally want to thank everyone who was involved in making this happen at our campus! You all did such a wonderful job! I also want to thank all of you who attended, because you wanted to or for class, I hope that you gained some new knowledge and took something away from the symposium!

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