From the devastating loss of Freddie Gray in Boston, MA to the tragic death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, this year marked several high profile cases of racial bias and bigotry towards communities of color. These instances highlighted the reality that, despite rhetoric that declares that peace, fairness, and tolerance are the norm for our society, what is actually occurring is the continuance of segregationist practice, overt and subtle bigotry, and the ugliness of violence.
In this light, the 2015 Empowering The Disempowered Conference was held October 1-2 at UW River Falls, with a focus on promoting scholarship and practice that engages with issues of oppression and exploitation of disempowered peoples. Collaboration was at the heart of this conference, as this was a joint meeting between the Sociologists of Minnesota and Wisconsin Sociological Association.
This unique meeting included excellent presentations, roundtables, and workshops centered on issues confronting oppressed and marginalized peoples, ranging from international exploitation to bias in criminal convictions. The two-day event was a time of meaningful discourse and exploration of sociological content.
This year’s conference balanced student and professional scholarship throughout, with dozens of presentations from sociologists and students from across Minnesota and Wisconsin. One standout feature was the significant number of student papers submitted to the Caroline Rose Paper competition. While all the papers were excellent, the judges worked hard to identify the first and second place graduate and undergraduate winders. Special thanks go out to the contest judges for their hard work in facilitating the event and identifying the winning papers.
As the conference theme surrounded the tragic events, and subsequent social action, in Ferguson, MO, several workshops and lectures were provided with an emphasis on confronting topics such as: bias in policing, police training and culture, and teaching about bias in the classroom. These discussions were not only informative, but addressed how communities can collaborate towards ensuring the end to such tragedies in the future.
The marquee event for the conference was the presentation by Dr. Artika Tyner, a law professor from the University of St. Thomas. Her keynote address, entitled Inroads to Justice and Freedom: The Impact of Incarceration on Families, Communities, and Offenders, provided a glimpse of how social systems can oppress and disempower communities. Ultimately, Dr. Tyner provided a message of hope, encouraging sociologists and non-sociologists alike to engage in direct legal and community actions to remedy injustice, wherever it may be.
Among those who attended, the response was extremely positive, with many folks remarking on the great presentations, strong student papers, and the timely and important theme. As current president of the Sociologists of Minnesota, I was honored to be present alongside so many people who are committed to the field of sociology, and the values and principles that serve as its foundation. Each year brings new opportunities to connect all things sociological to the events affecting society. Looking forward to seeing all of you at the conference next year!
Dr. Ronald Ferguson, Ph.D.
President, Sociologists of Minnesota