Conference to focus on progress in diversity

When the planning committee for the second annual Diversity Conference met in May, about 15 students attended. Now, that number is down to five. But members of the core committee say they have regrouped and stepped up their efforts to top last year’s conference.

Co-chair Alan Fu, a Weinberg sophomore, said, “I think it’s worked to our advantage because we’re all learning from the very beginning.”

The Diversity Conference, a day of speakers and workshops about multiculturalism, will take place Saturday at Norris University Center.

Judith Katz, executive vice president of Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group in New York, will open the day with her speech: “Bringing Our Full Selves to Making a Difference: Creating Cultures of Inclusion that Leverage Diversity.”

Committee member Hadley Leach, a Weinberg junior, said, “She’s going to try to set the tone of the day with an active message.”

This year’s conference theme is “Real Understanding: How Far Have We Come?” Organizers brainstormed this theme in response to last year’s conference, which addressed “Where Do We Go: Diversity in the Next Century.”

“Our theme (last year) was looking at the future,” Fu said. “I thought it would be nice to take a retrospective focus and analyze how far we’ve come.”

To lead up to Saturday, organizers held two events this week. The Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, a 25-member choir, performed classical pieces, Negro spirituals and gospel music Thursday evening in Norris; the Multicultural Center tonight will host an ethnic food night.

“It’s great because we have two great kick-off events that are really building up excitement,” Fu said. “We’re having manual registration (for the conference) at both events.”

Last year’s Diversity Conference drew about 240 students, faculty members and community members. About 170 people have registered online so far, and Fu said he expects to top 240 with on-site registration the day of the conference.

Norris Coordinator of Student Organizations Audrey Daniel said she is not concerned about the NU football game diverting potential attendees from the conference.

“The reality is that there’s options for everybody, and this allows us to have different activities on campus,” she said. “The goal of the conference is that it’s set up so students can pick and choose.”

Attendees can register for as many as three different workshops. They can stay for the entire seven-hour conference, or they can come and go throughout the day.

This year’s conference will offer some repeat workshops from the first conference, including “Inequality in Schools,” led by sociology Prof. Marika Lindholm, and “Language and Discrimination,” led by linguistics Prof. Michael Dickey.

One of the most popular workshops was “Diversity in the Media,” which featured a panel discussion with three Daily staffers and student representatives from For Members Only, Asian American Advisory Board and Alianza.

“The panel discussion last year was very widely attended,” said Medill senior Ashli Sims, who coordinated the workshop. “It was obviously a subject that needed to be talked about.”

This year, Sims invited students from Women’s Coalition and the Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Alliance, as well as Medill Prof. Ava Greenwell and members of the Northwestern Chronicle and Northwestern News Network.

Organizers also developed new workshops, including a two-part session sponsored by AAAB about the history of Asian-American hate crimes.

“What we’re really proud of is the diverse workshops that we’ve tried to bring into the conference,” said co-chair Lay Phing Lim, a Weinberg junior. “(But) we realized we have not been able to include all the groups.”

Jamie Washington, assistant vice president of student affairs at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, will give the keynote speech on “We’ve Come a Long Way, and We’ve Got a Long Way to Go” from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Louis Room.

Fu said the best part of the conference is the range of topics that will be covered.

“We have such a broad range of diversity-related issues,” he said. “There’s something that appeals to everyone.”

On-site registration for the Diversity Conference begins at 8:30 a.m. in the Louis Room lobby; the opening speaker begins at 10 a.m. Registration is free.