July-August 2009 Issue • Volume 37 • Issue 6

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09_meetingsLooking Forward to the 2009
Annual Meeting in San Francisco

Building Excellent, Diverse, and Just Communities: A Conversation Among Artists, Academics, and Activists

by Patricia Hill Collins, University of Maryland-College Park and ASA President

The 2009 Annual Meeting will be launched with an exciting opening plenary session, "Building Excellent, Diverse, and Just Communities: A Conversation Among Artists, Academics and Activists." The plenary features innovative thinkers from diverse backgrounds, fields, and stages of the life course who have placed their craft in service to issues of social justice. The panelists will share how their work gives them a distinctive viewpoint on the needs of contemporary and future communities. Through a conversation across different perspectives, my goal is to encourage an exchange that might catalyze new sociological thinking about the communities in which we are engaged as well as imagined communities that we might create. Because our panelists are not simply thinkers but also doers, this session should provide pragmatic ideas about what works, what doesn’t, and why.

Why Is This the Opening Plenary?

The program theme, "The New Politics of Community," examines how ideas and practices concerning community might shed light on contemporary politics. Currently, the term community resonates throughout social policy, popular culture, and everyday social interaction in ways that generate dynamic social and political identities. Ideas about community hold significance for quite different populations with competing political agendas—the right and left invoke ideas of community, yet with different definitions in mind. In this context, building excellent, diverse, and just communities constitutes one of the major challenges of our times.

The artists, academics, and/or activists on the panel are involved in building local, regional, national, or global communities. Some are focused on building learning communities for students, while others are students. Some work directly with communities who strive to tackle social inequalities of race, gender, poverty, ethnicity, and immigration status. Some study and use art, music, and film to educate and inspire youth, while others craft excellent scholarship that examines youth cultural production. Because our panelists are so different from one another, we envision a lively and substantive dialogue as panelists consider the connections between social justice and building excellent, diverse, and just communities.

And the Panelists Are…

Marcyliena Morgan is founder and Executive Director of the Hiphop Archive at Harvard University, a collaborative effort among students, faculty, artists, staff, and other participants in hip-hop culture. The Archive is committed to supporting and establishing a new type of research and scholarship devoted to the knowledge, art, culture, materials, organizations, movements, and institutions developed by followers of hip hop. Morgan’s research focuses on youth, gender, language, culture and identity, sociolinguistics, discourse and interaction, and she teaches courses at Harvard on hip hop, discourse, language and identity, race, class and gender, the ethnography of communications, and representation in the media.

Tam Tran is a student, activist, and filmmaker, and an outspoken advocate for immigrant rights and immigration reform. While an undergraduate at University of California-Los Angeles, Tran directed a film project featuring testimonies from undocumented students in the United States, spotlighting their unique challenges, fears, and hopes. Her film has been screened at immigration reform events across the country. In May 2007, Tran, an undocumented student, testified before the House Subcommittee on Immigration in support of the DREAM Act, which would give children of undocumented immigrants the opportunity to obtain citizenship if they earn a high school diploma and attend college or join the military. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in American Civilization at Brown University.

An activist, author, and organizer in the women’s, civil, and human rights movements for four decades, Charlotte Bunch is the founder and Executive Director of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University. Bunch was previously a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a founder of Washington, DC Women’s Liberation and of Quest: A Feminist Quarterly. She is the author of numerous books, essays, and anthologies, including the Center’s reports on the UN Beijing +5 Review and the World Conference Against Racism.

Nancy Lopez is on the faculty in the Sociology Department at the University of New Mexico-Albuquerque. Her research focuses on race, ethnic relations, gender, and education. Her book, Hopeful Girls, Troubled Boys: Race and Gender Disparity in Urban Education, looks at second-generation Dominicans, West Indians, and Haitians to explain why girls of color are succeeding at higher rates than their male counterparts. Lopez’s co-edited book with Raul Ybarra, Creating Alternative Discourses in Latino and Latina Education: A Reader, addresses the need for new ways of improving educational opportunities for Latinos and Latinas.

Amina Mama, currently at Mills College, served as the first Chair in Gender Studies at the African Gender Institute, University of Cape Town, South Africa, where she initiated the graduate program in gender studies and convened a series of continental research and publication projects. Prior to 1998, she spent more than a decade engaged in development consultancy, policy advocacy, community activism, and research in several African countries. Mama currently chairs the Board of Directors of the Global Fund for Women and serves on the United Nations Committee for Development Policy, the Development Policy Council of Sweden, and the Board of Directors of the Institute for African Studies at the University of Ghana. She is a founding editor of Feminist Africa.

Donald Guest is pastor at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. For more than three decades, Glide has been a model for building an inclusive community across differences of race, class, gender, sexuality, age, immigrant category, and/or health status. Since the 1960s, Glide has offered its flagship Free Meals Program and has been an active force in combating poverty, drug abuse, violence, and homelessness in the San Francisco community. In addition to focusing on social issues facing its community, Glide has been involved in countless progressive political efforts. Recently Glide Memorial Church received recognition in the film The Pursuit of Happiness.

Some of the most imaginative thinking and innovative ideas occur when people from diverse backgrounds think and work together on common concerns. Solving the many complex social problems that confront us today requires that the best minds be at the table. Building communities across multiple differences is one path to innovation and excellence. Hopefully, attendees will engage the ideas of these panelists by carrying the conversational format into the Welcoming Party that directly follows this plenary session and throughout the conference. Think, talk to one another, and have fun in San Francisco as we build a sociological community that is excellent, diverse, and just. logo


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