By Evan Leahy
Whatcom Community College Social Justice, Equity, and Pluralism committee presented the Students Leading Change Conference last Saturday, May 7 to address a variety of issues related to social justice. The event ran was open to the public was held throughout Heiner and Syre buildings from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
WCC Student Life Executive Vice President Na Eun Kim said that the theme for this year’s event was “intersectionality.” She explained that different identities are different ways in which they are oppressed and the intersectionality was the way in which different groups experiences overlap or impact one another.
The first students leading change conference was held three years ago, said Kim. She said that the first conference was held “as a way of giving back to the WCC community” after the newly formed SoJEP had gone to a Students of Color conference in Seattle, also held three years ago.
The event began with a registration and check in beginning at 8 a.m., followed by an official introduction to a conference at 9 a.m. including an honorary ceremony presented by Northwest Indian College and introduction to the event’s keynote speaker, Scott Turner Schofield.
Scott Turner Schofield is a transgender theatre artist, public speaker and diversity training consultant. Schofield’s keynote speech addressed the often incomplete nature of identity, saying that the ways we identify ourselves are often incomplete because of the multiple identities each person has in different contexts. As an example, Schofield pointed out that he was a white man but that there were other less obvious layers to his identity that could be more important. Recognizing the contextual nature of identity, Schofield said, was the key to understanding intersectionality.
Much of the rest of the day consisted of four workshop sessions addressing individual social justice issues, most of which were led by students from WCC with some run by faculty and is and students from Western Washington University. Kim said this was a “great opportunity for students to educate other students,” adding that “we hope to lead into ally-ship.”
“Our goal is education of the greater community,” said Kim, going on to say “I want to say ‘more diversity’ but we already have that.” She also reiterated the importance of education on issues for those seeking to be allies.
“Our college is really diverse compared to other colleges,” she said.
Workshops addressed a multitude of topics, ranging from bullying to LGBTQ+ life in the world’s most populous Islamic country, Indonesia, to income inequality in America and each lasted about 30-40 minutes.
In addition to being the keynote speaker, Schofield, presented a workshop about “powerbullies,” described in the program as “those who love power more than they understand the power of love.”
Schofield drew on examples of behavior in the political arena to illustrate the use of aggression to gain power, but pointed out that examples could be found anywhere, saying “our popular culture is full of bullies and it’s really doing a number on us.”
In his workshop, Schofield talked about identifying and avoiding bullying tactics like “blaming, pointing, scapegoating, [claiming to be an] ‘Everyman’, making generalizations and ‘gaslighting.’”
The Oxford Dictionary defines “gaslighting” as to “manipulate by psychological means into doubting their own sanity,” and Schofield said it played a significant role in “powerbullying.”
“The thing about adult bullying is it’s a mindf–k,” he said, talking about when a person is attacked for something trivial “and you’re left questioning, ‘maybe I did something wrong.’”
Lunch was served in the Syre lobby between the third and fourth workshop sessions around 12:15 p.m., with vegan and vegetarian options available. During the break, student performances were held in the Syre Auditorium, including a martial arts demonstration and a performance from Western Washington University’s Baile Folklorico club.