Conference goes off campus

By Annie Lewine

This weekend’s eighth annual American Studies conference drew in both students new to the study of race as well as those with backgrounds in American Studies. The conference was designed to include elements accessible to students with varying degrees of experience examining race and racism. Free tickets and transportation were provided for a limited number of students to off-campus events in order to give more students access to the exhibits.

The theme, “Visualizing Race: Three Episodes” included trips to the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Walker Art Center, and a keynote address from Robin D.G. Kelly,

Professor of History and American and Ethnicity Studies at the University of Southern California.

“I went because I had a free ticket and a ride there,” Lisa Bruckner ’10 said. “I think it’s great that they made it so easy for students to see the exhibit on race.”

The exhibit was also accessible to a wide range of people, said Kaylie Burns ’09, an American Studies and History major and a WGSS minor. “The race exhibit was important because it had the ability to reach such a variety of people,” Burns said. “Little kids could go in there and press buttons and actually learn about race […] the Science Museum targeted a broader audience.”

The exhibit provided an overview of contemporary American racial issues. Some of the videos featured in the exhibit addressed race in schools, the media, in housing and the Census. These were all featured along with personal stories about the effect of racism and race in individuals’ lives.

Saturday began with a panel discussion of the Science Museum’s race exhibit, followed by Kelly’s keynote address. After seeing the race exhibit Friday evening, Kelly said in his speech that he spent most of the night rewriting his keynote presentation.

On Saturday afternoon students boarded buses to the Walker Art Center in downtown Minneapolis to see Kara Walker’s exhibit, “My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love.” In his speech, Kelly called the exhibit “disturbing and powerful.” Others agreed. “Kara Walker challenges even people who do have a background in the study of race,” Burns said. “The Science Museum exhibit targeted a broader audience and Kara Walker makes even me step back—and I’ve been a student of race for the past four or five years.”

Although many took advantage of the free events on campus, some students who are more invested in the study of race felt there was a limited attendance of students not already involved with the American Studies department. In the wake of the politically incorrect party, some felt that the presence of students new to the study of race would have made the issues discussed this weekend more useful.

“I think the people who went were all people who wanted to have this discourse,” Burns said. “I want to discuss issues of race and the politically incorrect party with the people who don’t want to talk about [them].”