Power and Privilege Symposium: The past is ever present

Christy Carley

On Feb. 19, all classes will be canceled for the third-annual Power and Privilege Symposium. The theme of this year’s Symposium is “The Past is Ever Present: Unmasking Systems of Oppression and Inequality.” Consisting of 52 workshops, presentations and panels, the event will strive to open discussion about a wide range of issues related to injustice and inequality.

Senior Natalie Shaw, director of marketing and communications for the symposium, says the event is important “first and foremost … to create dialogue. Racial issues, class inequality issues, gender issues, sexual assault on campus, those are all pertinent things that are going to be discussed at the Power and Privilege Symposium.”

Leann Adams, director of student activities, has been assisting students with the planning of the event. She has provided both logistical support, such as contracting speakers, and advisory support, such as helping create to a clear vision for the event and putting together a team.

Adams said one of the things she most looks forward to is the keynote speech of the symposium, which, unlike the rest of the event, will be open to the Walla Walla community. The speech this year will be given this year by Shakti Butler on Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. in Cordiner Hall.

Butler is a filmmaker and educator who focuses on issues of diversity and racial equality. She is the founder of the World Trust Organization, which seeks to stimulate conversations about race through the use of workshops and videos. Butler’s film “Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity” will be shown on Feb. 11 at 9 p.m. in Olin Hall 130.

Adams believes that Butler’s ideas will resonate with the community, especially given recent events.

“One of the goals [of the students] is … trying to help Whitman … understand that this issue is relevant here and now,” said Adams. “That it’s not an issue for the past, it’s not an issue for others, it’s an issue here, intimately within our community.”

She cited the outcries in Ferguson, Mo. and protests against sexual assault as national issues that are still relevant within the Whitman community.

“The idea of wanting to personalize the conversation so that people feel connected to it, engaged in it and frankly, emotional about it,” said Adams, has been a major focus in the planning of the symposium.

This kind of conversation is not easy to have. Kyle Martz, Interim Program Advisor for the Intercultural Center, believes that the symposium is important in how it encourages community members to engage in difficult conversations.

“When we talk about issues of identity and culture, a lot of times we’re not talking in a very celebratory fashion. We’re talking about challenges and … the difficult parts of human existence,” said Martz.

Despite these difficulties, Martz believes that an event like this is essential to fostering a more inclusive environment at Whitman.

Kazi Joshua, associate dean for Intercultural Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer, agrees with Martz that creating a supportive and inclusive environment is one of the main objectives of the symposium. Joshua is new to Whitman this semester, but his position has existed in various forms for some time, evolving frequently.

“As the student population has increased on campus, the needs of underrepresented students and perhaps more importantly their interactions with their peers on the campus began to suggest that there was need for education on the part of the whole campus and not simply in providing support services for those who were underrepresented,” said Joshua.

Shaw, Martz and Joshua all emphasized the idea that the symposium alone will not solve problems of inequality or injustice at Whitman or on a larger scale. They do, however, see it as a step in the right direction.

“I do not see this symposium as the silver bullet that resolves everything,” said Joshua. “We ought to see these events … as a continuing conversation at Whitman that invites us to look at ourselves in the mirror and try to be the kind of Whitman we say we should be: one in which every student, every staff member, every faculty member can feel like they belong, that they can flourish and that they can thrive.”+