The Black Student Alliance at Yale’s annual Black Solidarity Conference meets yearly to address the most contemporary issues affecting the black community, but for organizers of this year’s conference, reality — in the form of the recession — hit close to home.
Despite organizational glitches and uncertainty surrounding the conference’s funding, organizers said this year’s conference drew record crowds to Yale’s campus over the weekend. The conference, now in its 14th year, featured speakers, panels and workshops that conference materials said sought to explore “the complexities of black identity and consciousness.”
Danielle Cooper ’10, the conference president, said organizers usually turn to local banks to finance the event and subsidize registration for some students. But because of the recent financial crisis, the banks were unable to contribute, leaving the students scrambling to fill the gaps in funding.
Despite these difficulties, however, attendance at the conference, titled “Beyond Black: Our Identity in Technicolor,” hit an all-time high. About 750 students attended, representing roughly 50 colleges.
“We actually had to turn people away,” Cooper said.
Six discussion panels held Saturday afternoon examined topics related to black identity in the cultural and professional realms, such as the black family, life in the corporate world and blacks in athletics.
A panel entitled “Disrobed: An Exposé of Black Sexuality” drew an audience of over 350 to Sterling Sheffield Strathcona Hall for a discussion of black attitudes toward sexuality.
B. Scott, an openly gay blogger and celebrity commentator, spoke about the difficulties gay blacks face in coming out to their communities.
“Coming out is a very personal decision,” said Scott. “What you do should come from your spirit. Your responsibility is to be true to yourself and to your message.”
Bowdoin College freshman Branden Asemah described the event as “progressive.”
“There are so many students here from well-established universities,” Asemah said. “To see 750 students who look like you and have the same academic commitment as you — that’s something we don’t see in the media.”
Asemah commended the organizational prowess of the Black Solidarity Conference board, but said the conference was not without its fair share of glitches.
“There are a few small things that need to be looked at for next year, like housing,” Asemah said, adding that panel timing forced attendants to choose between one event and another.
Fewer Yale students registered for the conference than organizers had expected, leading to a shortage of rooms and hosts for visiting students. Two days before the conference began, organizers circulated e-mails asking students to sign up to host students, offering hosts a chance to win an iPod in exchange.
Logistical issues arose Saturday morning as organizers struggled to find transportation to volunteer sites across New Haven for participants in the Morning of Service, organized by the Yale chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Pan-Hellenic Society.
Keynote speaker Manning Marable, a professor of history and political science at Columbia University, was hospitalized Thursday after falling ill and could not deliver Saturday evening’s address.
James Peterson, an assistant professor of English at Bucknell University, spoke in lieu of Marable. Paterson’s speech, entitled “To Infinity and Beyond: Technically Black versus Technicolor Blackness,” addressed the meaning of a “technicolor” black identity.
“This world is blacker than it has ever been before, demographically, politically,” said Peterson, referring to Obama’s presidency. “The question is, ‘Can we see it? Can you see it?’ ”