Alyssa Sutton

Eastern Oregon University will hold its seventh annual Celebrate, Educate and Appreciate Diversity conference tomorrow.

The keynote speaker, Amy Irby-Shasanmi, is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of West Georgia, where she teaches medical sociology, health disparities and the sociology of mental health and illness. Irby-Shasanmi will be sharing her work on the ways racism and discrimination get “under your skin” and its impact on physical and mental health.

The conference, which student facilitator Jessica Peterson said is one of the biggest events the university holds throughout the year, will feature workshops such as Claiming Body Sovereignty: Embodying the Intersections of Fatness, Queerness, and Indigeneity; Discrimination and Privilege: A Matter of Sickness and Health, Life and Death; and What Is Cultural Appropriation?

Peterson said that during the lunch hour, attendees will break up into groups to discuss racism.

“We’ll talk about when you first realized racism, how it affects you and if you’ve ever experienced it,” Peterson said.

She added that the goal of that discussion is to provide a safe zone for individuals to have an open dialogue regarding racial diversity.

Last year participants were given a packet, a version will be used this year, that included “community agreements” intended to assist discussions. Among the suggestions were to “assume when someone is speaking that they have the best intentions. Learners are using the best terminology they know, based on the diversity spectrum they are at.” Participants were asked to use “I statements,” using personal experience rather than generalizing or assuming that everyone thinks the same way, and to avoid gendered language and to remember that stories and examples shared throughout the conference should remain confidential.

The packet also included a handout stating that participants should expect unfinished business: “There will be many instances where in-depth conversations will flourish that won’t be finished in the amount of time allotted. We invite you to take these conversations back to campus and use the time outside of the conference to continue having these dialogues.”

See complete story in Friday's Observer