“Often what students experience beyond the classroom can influence and deepen what they experience in the classroom,” says Brad Clarke, Brock University’s director of student life and community experience. “We know that knowledge[-building] takes place in both realms,” he adds.
Mr. Clarke’s understanding of the manifold ways student life and learning intersect with one another is also key to his role as chair of Brock’s Racial Climate Task Force.
The task force was formed after a 2014 controversy that involved four Brock students who were photographed in blackface at a Halloween party at a student pub on campus. That students thought blackface was appropriate was disturbing enough, but what signalled a deeper problem to the university was that the photo was shared online after the group had won a costume contest – which was decided on by a round of audience applause.
Mr. Clarke explains that the task force is in place to challenge “students, staff and faculty to examine and consider the dynamics of race and racism within the Brock context.” One of the ways it has been working on that mandate is by hosting the White Privilege Symposium scheduled for Sept. 30 to Oct. 1.
The event’s theme, Academics and Activists: Advocating for Equity, Justice and Action, aims to bridge the gap between two distinct approaches to challenging racism that Mr. Clarke explains share an equal footing on campus. “We wanted to keep at the forefront the idea that progress and growth comes not from one or the other, but from the collective work of each,” he says.
The symposium has been planned in partnership with The Privilege Institute, which has organized conferences across the United States on the theme of white privilege since 1999. Brock’s symposium will be the first to take place in Canada.
Despite its American roots, Mr. Clarke assures the event presents a “cross-section of background experiences, both from Canada and the U.S.” Speakers slated for the symposium include Eddie Moore, founder and program director of the White Privilege Conference; Shauneen Pete, executive lead of Indigenization and associate professor at the University of Regina; and Afua Cooper, the James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University.
The range of leaders from Indigenous, LGBTQ and Black communities speaking about white privilege at the event is representative of the intersectional approach organizers say is central to discussing race and racism.
“We wanted to be sure to acknowledge and respect those various intersections as we started to develop the program,” Mr. Clarke says.
Offering a multitude of perspectives also allows the symposium to appeal to a group outside Brock’s own students, staff and faculty. Mr. Clarke says the symposium has been designed to also involve Brock’s local community in the Niagara region, including teachers and students from a nearby school board, with special programming designed for high school students. “Our hope is that they gain something from the symposium that they bring back to their high schools and work to continue it there as well,” he says.
Ultimately, Mr. Clarke says he’s optimistic that the symposium will help provide a rich learning experience for the university and the community at large. “The longer term goal, and maybe the more worthy goal after the blackface incident, is to educate the community so that it’s not just about teaching what not to do, but more deeply understanding the historical and societal entrenchment of racism,” he says.