It made sense to have Adam Weinberg give the welcoming address at this year’s GLCA Students of Color Leadership Conference, not simply because he is Denison’s president and the conference was held on the DU campus, but also because of his interest in civic education — the idea of teaching students to make a difference in their communities by coming together to tackle real-world issues.
The conference, titled “Picture This: 21st Century Scholar-Activism,” was sponsored by the Committee for Institutional Commitment to Education Equity (CICEE) and was held in Granville on November 8 and 9. It encouraged attendees to think critically about the role of scholar-activists in today’s world — activists who continue to question the status quo when it comes to education, race relations, and cultural disparities.
And this wasn’t simply a conference during which students got comfortable in their chairs and listened to a series of speakers. Denison alumnus Erik S. Farley ’03, an associate dean of students and director of multi-cultural student affairs at DU, and chair of the conference’s planning committee, says the idea was to give students a history of the scholar-activist tradition that started with people like W.E.B. DuBois, Ida Wells, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the contextual history of current race and culture issues. The conference also was designed to help student leaders develop action plans to address those issues on each of their respective GLCA campuses.
“The defining skill for members of this generation will be the ability to successfully work with and live alongside people who are different from themselves,” says Weinberg. “The biggest barrier we face in addressing global issues is not the lack of ideas or technology, but rather the inability of people to work across difference. Liberal arts colleges are uniquely prepared to populate the world with this type of leadership.”
That was just the idea throughout the conference as students met in roundtable discussions, presented ideas and thoughts to their peers, and listened to speakers, including Maulana Karenga, professor and chair of Africana studies at California State University, Long Beach, a well-recognized scholar-activist and the creator or Kwanzaa; Curtis Chin, a writer and producer from Los Angeles who created the award-winning documentary, “Vincent Who?,” which was screened at the conference and tells the story of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American beaten to death by two autoworkers in Detroit in 1982; and Diane Ariza, the associate vice president for academic affairs and chief diversity officer at Quinnipiac University who works with students, faculty, and staff to develop action plans that enhance campus culture and foster diversity.
“The conference was a chance to take time and focus on the issues that surround us every day,” says Farley. “It gave us the ability to explore the ways in which these issues have grown or developed over time and to think hard about how we, as a community, can make sustainable change.”