Gaede Institute | Programs The Conversation on the Liberal Arts
"Still Dreaming: Race, Ethnicity, and Liberal Arts Education"
February 27-29, 2020 | Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA
In what ways has liberal education, past and present, fostered racial privilege? How can liberal education cultivate racial justice?
Advocates of liberal arts education have long understood themselves as essential contributors to a society that is more prosperous, more integrated, and more just. But their vision of a better society has often been narrow and self-interested; it has privileged certain voices and priorities and systematically excluded others. This contradiction has been especially evident with respect to race and ethnicity. With a few notable exceptions—for example, HBCUs, or colleges that made antislavery or civil rights fundamental to their identities—modern liberal arts institutions have historically replicated, defended, or even promoted racially based patterns of inclusion and exclusion. Nonwhite students continue to be underrepresented at these institutions, and nonwhite faculty and staff often struggle to own and shape the identities of their colleges and universities.
Recent developments in American society have laid bare these longstanding patterns of exclusion, and liberal arts institutions are grappling in new ways with the very present legacies of racial inequity on their own campuses. There are questions of access: Who should enjoy the benefits of a broad and integrated education, and how do they get in the door? There are questions of power: Who shapes the ethos of campus life, determines the academic curricula, or set the standards for professional advancement? There are deep structural questions: If liberal arts institutions have been products of and contributors to the racial status quo, is there hope that they can articulate and pursue a genuinely inclusive vision of higher education?
The nineteenth annual Conversation on the Liberal Arts will gather scholars, administrators, students, and practitioners to consider these questions and more.
Who should attend?
- Faculty and administrators who wish to begin, broaden, or sharpen conversations about racial justice at their institutions;
- Scholars whose research illumines the relationship between race and education in America;
- Student life professionals who are working to create inclusive communities;
- Undergraduate and graduate students whose scholarship or experience gives them insight into the challenges of inclusivity on campus;
- Practitioners whose work gives them perspective on the ways race operates in the arena of higher education;
- Anyone with an interest in the value and practice of liberal education.
The deadline for submitting proposals is November 15, 2019.
"This conference has reminded me, after some time wandering in the proverbial desert, of why I got into academics in the first place."
—Conversation on the Liberal Arts participant
Our annual Conversation on the Liberal Arts gathers faculty, administrators, and students from colleges and universities nationwide to address opportunities and challenges in liberal arts education. How do we educate for membership in a global community? How is liberal education related to work and vocation? What challenges and opportunities are being created by changes in the business of higher education? We learn from some of the best in the field, but mostly we learn from each other as we share how things look through our sometimes very different lenses.
The Conversation on the Liberal Arts is not a typical academic conference. We have great speakers, and we have much to learn from them. But all of us are engaged in this work everyday, so we also have much to learn from each other. To stimulate this mutual teaching and learning, we keep the conference small; we anticipate fewer than 100 participants. Plenary sessions include as much time for participants' questions and contributions as they do for the speakers' talks. Concurrent sessions are opportunities for discussion between presenters and attendees about key elements of the presenter's work. And there is ample time for informal conversation over meals and coffee—often the most fruitful moments of the conference. The crucial element throughout is conversation, where we can all benefit from each other's insights.
We also profit from a wide range of perspectives. This is a conference where administrators, scholars, students, and practitioners can talk to each other about how the issues look from their different positions, and where those from large universities and small liberal arts colleges, from public institutions and private, from faith-based institutions and those with no religious affiliation can explore shared challenges from our differing contexts. Attendees consistently remark on the distinctively personal tone of these three days, praising the diverse, face-to-face dialogue that often is missing at academic gatherings.
In short, the Conversation on the Liberal Arts is a hospitable place for dialogue across what are too often boundaries in higher education—dialogue about the shared challenges, and especially the shared promise, of liberal arts education. We hope you'll join us!
Estela Mara Bensimon is a professor of higher education at the USC Rossier School of Education and Director of the Center for Urban Education, which she founded in 1999. Among her most celebrated work is the Equity Scorecard, a tool for identifying and addressing inequality in higher education. Dr. Bensimon is the recipient of the 2017 Social Justice in Education Award, presented by the American Education Research Association, as well as the 2015 American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) Outstanding Latina Faculty Award for Research and Teaching.
Louis P. Nelson is Professor of Architectural History and the Vice Provost for Academic Outreach at the University of Virginia. His research engages the built environments of slavery, including the racialized landscape of the University of Virginia itself. His work in academic outreach supports a robust curricular program grounded in community partnerships and a commitment to the education of students for socially responsible, engaged citizenship.
Reggie Williams is an ethicist specializing in the thought of the Harlem Renaissance. His most recent book, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus, explores how a postdoctoral year in Harlem shaped German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology and practice; his current book project illumines the Harlem Renaissance’s religious critique of whiteness. Dr. Williams is a professor of Christian ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary.
The Santa Barbara Airport is just 20 minutes from campus, and 15 minutes from waterfront hotels. Rental car and taxi services are conveniently located on site. Los Angeles International Airport is a 75-minute drive from Santa Barbara; from there, the Santa Barbara Airbus ($50 one way) takes you directly to the complex of waterfront hotels that will be served by our campus shuttle. Amtrak is not cheaper or more convenient, as it requires a shuttle to and from LA Union Station. However, the train provides spectacular views of the LA basin and Pacific coastline.
Driving and Parking
Driving directions to campus may be found here. A map of campus may be found here. Parking at Westmont is free and no permit is necessary. Please park in the Kerr Student Center Parking Lot (P1 on map). To get there, enter upper campus and make an immediate left into the lot. Registration is at the Global Leadership Center, just to the south of the parking lot; from the lot, walk downhill past Kerr Student Center, then bear left across the long footbridge.
The Santa Barbara train station is at the lower end of downtown, a short taxi ride, or 20-minute walk, from East Beach hotels.
Shuttle service will be provided between campus and the hotels listed below. Shuttles will run at the beginning and end of the program each day (see "Shuttle Information" tab for more).
The campus shuttle will serve only the hotels adjacent to East Beach (see the "Shuttle Information" tab for shuttle stop locations). You may wish to stay elsewhere, but please be aware that you will be responsible for arranging your own transportation to and from conference events. Shuttle-line hotels include:
The shuttle will run between campus and select local hotels. City buses and local trolleys stop at these locations, too, so be sure to look for the Westmont shuttle. There are two shuttle stops: East Beach and Hilton, both on Cabrillo Boulevard (see below for precise locations).
- The East Beach stop is just to the east of the Hyatt, and serves all waterfront lodging except the Hilton. From these hotels, most participants will walk to the beachfront boulevard (Cabrillo) and turn left. The stop is a bus turnout at the corner of Cabrillo and Ninos Dr. View in Google Maps
- The Hilton stop is just to the east of the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort, and serves this hotel only. Exit the front of the Hilton, toward the beach. Turn left and walk along the waterfront until you see a large rainbow arch sculpture. The shuttle stop is directly in front of this sculpture on Cabrillo Boulevard. View in Google Maps
Shuttles run once at the beginning and once at the end of each program day:
|Thursday, February 27|
|Depart waterfront hotels for Westmont campus||2:45pm|
|Depart campus for waterfront hotels||5:30pm|
|Friday, February 28|
|Depart waterfront hotels for campus||8:30am|
|Depart campus for waterfront hotels||6:30pm|
|Saturday, February 29|
|Depart waterfront hotels for campus||8:15am|
|Depart campus for waterfront hotels||12:15pm|
Below is a tentative rough schedule of Conversation events. A detailed schedule will be published approximately one month before the Conversation.
Thursday, February 27
3 PM | Registration Opens
3:30 PM | Opening Plenary
5:30 PM | Dinner
Friday, February 28
8:30 AM | Morning Plenaries
11:30 AM | Concurrent Sessions
12:45 PM | Lunch
1:45 PM | Concurrent Sessions
3:30 PM | Afternoon Plenary
5:30 PM | Dinner
Saturday, February 29
9 AM | Concurrent Sessions
10:15 AM | Closing Plenary
12 PM | Lunch