Five Things I Want to See More At Social Justice Conferences
Posted by Allie
April 7, 2014
I adore social justice conferences. I love the spaces, the atmosphere, the fact that I know I have something in common with every person in the elevator. I almost always feel safe to be who I am at conferences. I will acknowledge that attending them and feeling safe at them is often a privilege, no matter how accessible they tend to be. I have been very fortunate that I have attended so many throughout college, but I have noticed that some of them fall short when it comes to really implementing inclusive spaces. These are some of the observations I’ve made about how to make them more inclusive.
1. Child care/child-friendly
This is something I rarely see at conferences! Having kids in social justice spaces is so essential to keeping the movement going. And just because people become parents, doesn’t mean that they stop fighting the good fight. A great book I read recently
Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to support Families in Social Jusrice Movements and Communities. This book is a fantastic guide with how to support families not only in activist spaces, but in your day-to-day activism. Some of the basic suggestions given are to make spaces specifically for children of all ages, including having non-violent play, keeping the space visible, and encouraging non-parents to volunteer.
2. Young people and older adults!
Young people can often be ignored during conferences; whether it’s because of a perceived lack of experience or they are lost in the planning process. Put young people on your panels and make them speakers. Make events for us. This does not just include people in their early-to-mid 20s; it includes high school students who attend independently. Make sure there are events without alcohol, not only for those under 21, but for sober folks as well. The same goes with older folks; have panels and events for them as well. Events for those with more experience organizing should be encouraged.
3. Gender neutral bathrooms
Conferences are some of the only spaces where people can experience gender-neutral bathrooms. Make sure that everyone knows what the purpose of a gender-neutral bathroom is; generally some signage outside and in conference programs/announcements will help. Having the bathrooms not only makes the space safer, but also provides as a great educational opportunity, and an experience for those who doubt the usefulness of the bathroom. Of course, there is no use in the bathroom if people do not know about it, so make sure it is close by the conference, and not isolated and far away from the space.
4. Accessibility for people with disabilities
This part should be obvious, but I don’t always see it. Since disability has such a wide range, it can be a challenge to make sure everyone is included.
5. Inclusive language for trans* identifying folks
Many conferences tend to perpetuate a gender binary, especially if the conference is specifically about women or men. It’s always important to remember that gender goes beyond female and male; that male-identified folks need access to reproductive health services such as abortion and birth control, just as a genderqueer person does not feel adequately represented in “brothers and sisters.” Think about the way that you use the binary and assume gender identity when it comes to female and male bodies.
These highlights are just a small chunk of what can be included at conferences. You cannot forget subsidized conference fees for low-income folks, multiple language interpreters, being bus and metro accessible, having environmentally friendly practices, including education about particular issues (trans* etiquette and scent-free spaces), having a hashtag for social media, and other major and smaller improvements. It’s almost neverending. As a conference attendee, you should take notes on what is working and what isn’t included; always complete the evaluation and let the hosting organization know what you think! The work you are doing is important, and don’t let it fall short when creating these amazing spaces.