2019 Othering & Belonging Conference Report

Conference Agenda: Sessions & Content

Introduction From the Conference Chair 

For over a year leading up to the 2019 conference, the organizing committee worked to design a conference agenda that encouraged big-picture discussions on the major challenges of our current historical moment. These included rising authoritarianism, extreme inequality, climate chaos, forced migration, enduring manifestations of racism, sexism, and domination—and what the othering and belonging framework can offer as a way to understand and mitigate these forces. We placed special emphasis on an expanded offering of materials and interactive elements to meet the request of past attendees to have more takeaways and tools that can help them walk away with practical applications of this work. Session design, speaker selection, and the overall program curation focused on the following set of strategic questions that guided our planning:

  • How can we create structures that support a large, diverse society, with people who are connected across cultures, religions, race, and other lines of perceived difference?
  • What models and systems already exist and how can we strengthen them? What new or re-calibrated institutions are needed to realize an inclusive society?
  • How we respond to breaking and how can we activate bridging? How does this analysis help inform our work?
  • How do we form and sustain relationships, advance narratives, and build movements that truly support a larger and more inclusive "we"?
  • How do we make clear connections between global and local models, struggles, and strategies for expanding belonging in order to build a truly international movement of belonging?

Mainstage Sessions

The conference mainstage served as the backbone of the event—defining key ideas, setting the tone, and providing powerful and generative inspiration for attendees.

The mainstage featured presenters who had both strategies for operationalizing belonging and who also personified and exemplified belonging as a core practice, including Rev. William Barber’s focus on fusion-based, multi-racial coalitions to build a beloved community, Dawn Lyen Gardner’s reflections on multiracial experience and belonging in Hollywood, Brett Cook’s exploration of community based arts practice, and the exploration of belonging in the context of migration from the Global Migration panel speakers.

The mainstage also prioritized an examination of current global political and social phenomena, how they are in close interaction and relationship with US political and economic systems, and how the global rise of exclusionary, ethnic-nationalist, and authoritarian politics are informing and threatening our world today. This grounded the presentations of the Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson’s reflection on Canada’s attempts to create more inclusive national policies, the discussion of authoritarianism as explored by Miriam Juan-Torres of More in Common, and the relationship of contemporary feminist issues as connected to global issues." 

Breakout Sessions

Two sets of concurrent breakout sessions offered deep dives into a range of topic areas and provided smaller spaces that encouraged attendees to interact with one another more directly. Eighteen breakout sessions were offered, each lasting 90 minutes. Their themes ranged from discussions on bridging to curriculum and pedagogy, artificial intelligence to spirituality and science, and racism and the right to the city to operationalizing belonging in local government. Highly interactive sessions included a session led by CONTRA-TIEMPO dance company (who later performed on stage and brought session participants into that performance), a virtual reality workshop by DR. Shakti Butler that brought participants into restorative justice scenarios, and a sports/movement workshop by Dania Cabello that expanded on themes brought forward in the mainstage presentation of NFL player and activist Michael Bennett.

Sessions also sought to present concrete opportunities for operationalizing belonging. Some of these, like the "Economics of Belonging" session did this through presenting new frameworks and sharing case-study models. Others sought an interactive format such as the "Rewrite the Future" workshop which used science fiction to imagine new forms and opportunities for belonging. The importance of these opportunities is reflected in feedback that the most valuable part of the conference were the sessions "that were engaging and actually talking about tools and ways in which to bridge across different groups."

Of those surveyed, the most appreciated aspect of the breakouts was the opportunity to deepen discussion on topical and relevant issues (53.6%). A quarter of respondents appreciated that they were interactive and engaging. 

from top: Participants at the opening session of the Coffeehouse Conversations sessions; speaker Saru Jayaraman on the Future of Feminism panel; Pulitzer-Prize winning author and essayist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah; and, (from left) the Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson and Mamadou Goita 

Arts and Culture

Authentic, widespread belonging will require a cultural shift and building a world built on belonging requires recognizing and engaging culture as a site of change.

In 2019, we again made arts and culture a central element of the Othering & Belonging conference. This was reflected in the curation of the opening night which began with a welcoming by Vincent Medina and and Louis Trevino, representing the Ohlone people whose land the conference was held on, a performance by Supaman Christian Takes Gun Parrish, and presentations by representatives of key sites of culture such as literature and criticism, professional sports, and Hollywood.

An interactive installation took place throughout the three days which represented the culmination of the Haas Institute’s inaugural Artist-in-Residence Christine Wong Yap’s project. Significant programming time was provided on the mainstage and in breakout sessions for artists and culture workers, including opportunities for facilitated dialogue (Coffeehouse Conversations), youth spoken word poetry (curated by Youth Speaks), community based and public arts (Brett Cook, Roberto Bedoya), urban latin dance (CONTRA-TIEMPO), hip-hop and fancy dance (Supaman), a pan-Arab music ensemble (Aswat), and singing (Melanie DeMore).

Another key element was the Omi Wellness space, the curation of which was led by Ashara Ekundayo, Patrick Brown, and Takiyah Franklin, and provided a resource for rest, reflection, and healing that was based in multiple contemplative modalities.

In an article about the conference for Non-Profit Quarterly, Steve Dubb recognized the way that culture "permeated" the approach of the conference and offered a compelling framework for belonging, opportunities to reflect on and move through trauma, and articulated connection points between cultural and policy change. 

Evaluations indicated the most valuable aspects of the conference were the opportunity to connect and network with others, mainstage sessions, and the frameworks and messaging that were delivered.

Takeaways

Attendees found a wide range of valuable experiences from attending the conference. Of these, three themes stood out— content, connection, and inspiration. When asked what one word summarized their
conference experience, the most common responses was "Inspiring."

Sharing space, connection and networking with a broader community was noted as a valuable aspect of the conference (21% of responses); a mainstage presentation (20%); the frameworks and overall message of the conference (12.1%) and content presented (8.5%) were also critical takeaways for attendees. Content and frameworks were most often mentioned in relation to clarity, applicability, power and their visionary nature.

Mainstage panel “Will the Future be Feminist?” with (l-r) Nina Simons, Morning Star Gali, Linda Sarsour, Charlene Sinclair, and Saru Jayaraman. People were drawn to this panel for its it direct “truth-telling”