Racial issues on the agenda this fall as US conference comes to Brock

For the first time in its history, the White Privilege Conference — a prominent American symposium of educators and students “designed to examine issues of privilege beyond skin colour” — is venturing outside of the U.S.A.

This fall, Brock University will be the host site for the White Privilege Symposium Canada (WPSC). The two-day event Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 will use a format of guest speakers and group workshops to examine the impacts of, and solutions to, racial and cultural oppression.

Organized by Brock’s Task Force on Racial Climate, and supported by the US conference group, the WPSC will be themed “Academics & Activists: Advocating for Equity, Justice and Action”, and is expected to draw upwards of 200 attendees from Canada and the U.S. (About 2,500 attended the 17th annual White Privilege Conference, held in April in Philadelphia.)

Topping the list of speakers at Brock will be American scholar and racial justice activist Eddie Moore, who founded the White Privilege Conference as well as The Privilege Institute, which engages people in research, education and leadership through workshops and conferences.

Other scheduled keynotes include Shauneen Pete, a First Nations educator and University of Regina associate professor; Ritu Bhasin, a Canadian lawyer and equity consultant; Afua Cooper, the dub poet who is also the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies and professor at Dalhousie University; rap artist and anti-violence activist Jasiri X; and U.S. author and racial justice educator Debby Irving.

Brad Clarke hesdshot

Brad Clarke

Organizers expect the Brock WPSC event will attract a diverse audience of students, parents and community leaders as well as school teachers or counsellors who work on issues of equity and social justice.

Dolana Mogadime, Associate Professor in Brock’s Faculty of Education and a member of the Task Force on Racial Climate, said holding the conference at Brock is a windfall that will help the entire Niagara community better understand inclusivity.

“We have more than a War of 1812 discipline of heritage,” said Mogadime. “This is about acknowledging, and growing our knowledge of, our own history.

“As the first Canadian institution to host the White Privilege Symposium, Brock is leading a national discussion. And it is informed by collaboration with American thought leaders who bring expertise in grappling with issues of inclusion, and advocating for redressing communities that are marginalized by asking important questions that lead to positive change.”

Mogadime said Canada is one the most cosmopolitan countries in the world, and Brock’s own campus community continues to be broadened by students from the GTA and overseas. She said a major event like the WPSC plays a big part in helping people have the conversations that lead to understanding diversity and living in a diverse community.

The Task Force on Racial Climate was created after a “black face” incident occurred at a Halloween costume party in Brock’s student pub in 2014. Task force chair Brad Clarke, who is also Brock’s Director of Student Life and Community Experience, said its mandate is to bring together students, staff and faculty to examine and consider the dynamics of race within the Brock context, and to initiate activity that will improve the racial climate at Brock.

“Unfortunately racism — implicit and explicit, intentional and unintentional — is present on every campus and in every community,” said Clarke. “Brock is no different. We must encourage activities that acknowledge and embrace diversity, while increasing equity and inclusion for all.”

In the coming months, watch for more interviews and details about the symposium. In the meantime, use these links to see the agenda as well as biographies of keynote speakers.

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