United message

Political Science Department head Carter Wilson speaks to a crowd on “Critical Race Theory: A Personal Perspective” during the United Conference. (Photo courtesy of Kristi Evans)



Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — Northern Michigan University’s campus was host to a wide variety of guest speakers who spoke about personal experiences with language, literature and inclusivity.

This year’s theme was “Writing Our Own Stories.” Most notably, author Elsa Sjunneson spoke about her 2021 novel “Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism.”

The event also marked the 10th anniversary of the Diversity Common Reader Program.

DCRP has distributed free books and held events related to their selected content: diversity, inclusion and justice since 2013. Everything it hosts is free and open to the public. This year the organization featured Sjunneson’s “Being Seen.”

“The sessions throughout the remainder of the day align with the theme of self-authorship and uplifting voices and perspectives that don’t always get much attention,” said Stefani Vargas, coordinator of NMU’s Student Equity and Engagement Center and UNITED. “Most are led by diverse Northern faculty, staff and alumni. We decided to keep those short–only 50 minutes, or about the same as an NMU class–with 10-minute breaks in between. And every morning session is repeated in the afternoon so people have two chances to catch a particular topic. We wanted to make this event more easily accessible so people can pop in and out as their schedules allow.”

Vargas said SEEC student employees offered feedback on the topics their peers would be most interested in learning about.

They also helped to promote the event, she said. Former Wildcat volleyball player Callie Youngman and basketball player Kenton Mack presented “Creating a SEA (Supporting, Elevating, Activating) of Change for Social Justice in Athletics.”

They also gave separate presentations to NMU Athletics administrators and student-athletes.

Nyshell Lawrence was another featured speaker at the conference.

Her topic was “Black Books Matter: Curating a Local Bookshop & Safe Space.” Lawrence is a poet and the founder of Lansing’s Socialight Society.

The independent bookstore focuses on representation for Black women that she said is often missing in mainstream bookstores.

Lawrence is also the author of “Scarred: The Beauty In My Pain,” and “SHE: A Sista Girls’ Guide to Overcoming Her Past & Pursuing A Limitless Future.”

“Being Seen” author Sjunneson is a dancer, fencer, writer, media critic, consumer of fantasy and purveyor of sci-fi stories.

She just so happens to be both deaf and blind. Sjunneson is an outspoken advocate for people with disabilities and strives to educate the public on her day-to-day reality.

Other presentations were Metamorphosis: Identities in the Language Classroom, Imposter Syndrome: Learning to Speak Our Truth, My Life with Language Deprivation, Using Data to Tell a Story: LGBTQ+ Survey Research, Interrogating Racism: Dismantling Barriers in the classroom, Fat Pedagogy: Challenging Anti-Fatness in Classroom Practices and Critical Race Theory: A Personal Perspective.

Lesley Larkin is the chair of DCRP and founder of the UNITED conference in 2013.

She will be stepping down and passing on the mantle to a new leader for next year’s event. Additionally, a survey will be sent to all NMU students in the near future to select the next DCRP book of choice.

Alexandria Bournonville can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is abournonville@miningjournal.net.


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