November 10, 2008

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LEWISBURG, Pa. -- The election of Barack Obama as the nation's first African-American president has brought issues of race to the forefront, perhaps like never before.

Faculty, staff and student representatives from member institutions of the Consortium on High Achievement and Success (CHAS) will come together for the 8th annual Black and Latino Male Conference this weekend at Bucknell University to discuss the issues surrounding the election of a black president. Attendees also will discuss other questions about race and gender and how these issues impact academic experiences.

During the past six months, consortium representatives have worked at developing a program to explore the challenges and opportunities brought forth by this political campaign and presidential election.

"It's a perfect time for this kind of conversation," said Rolando Arroyo-Sucre, Bucknell's chief officer for diversity and equity and coordinator of the team organizing the conference.

Building Leaders
Founded in 2000, the consortium is a group of 37 private, selective liberal arts institutions, including Bucknell, focused on building leadership skills and academic and social success among students of various cultural backgrounds. This year, for the first time, specific sessions will be offered for female participants. Likewise, some discussions will focus specifically on the male experience. Students are welcome to attend the open sessions.

The theme of the conference is "The Fire This Time: Politics, Economics, and Identity," a play on the James Baldwin collection of letters and essays, The Fire Next Time, (first published in The New Yorker then later released in 1963). Baldwin's writings focus on race relations in America in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement. The book addresses issues including speculation about the future election of a black president.

Conference participants will discuss ways to enrich their college experience, the many options for public and community service and the changing role of gender and race in the United States. They also will consider how to build a more inclusive environment that reflects and celebrates differences among faculty and students and promotes personal academic achievement.

"We will be addressing some of their concerns and challenging them to leverage their education to become citizens of the world," said James Peterson, an assistant professor of English at Bucknell who will be giving a keynote address Sunday. "I'm very excited that people understand the value of this conference enough so Bucknell can host it. Our students need it. It really does help to build a network of support."

A New Approach
Amy V. Ramirez Rodriguez, a participant and organizer, said the conference is a step toward "building a global society and incorporating different voices in the undergraduate collegiate community."

"Undergraduates from many institutions will be here learning from their peers," she said.

As in previous years, during the last day of the conference, each campus team will come together to reflect on the experience and develop an action plan with strategies to take back to their respective institutions.

The keynote speakers include:

Cary Fraser, an associate professor of African and African-American studies and history at Pennsylvania State University, 9:30 to 10:45 a.m., the Forum (second floor) of the Elaine Langone Center.

Trent Hargrove, Pennsylvania chief diversity officer and Bucknell alumnus, 12:30 to 1:50 p.m. Saturday at Larison Dining Hall.

Shaun Harper, an assistant professor of higher education management at Penn State, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the Terrace Room in the Langone Center.

James Peterson, an assistant professor of English at Bucknell, will give the closing keynote address, 11 a.m. to noon Sunday in the Terrace Room at the Elaine Langone Center.

In his keynote address, Peterson plans to read a letter to his 9-year-old son addressing issues he faces as a young African-American boy and possible impacts from Obama's election on those challenges. The letter, which Peterson plans to share with his son when he is older, is modeled on a letter Baldwin wrote to his nephew.

"I will be trying to speak to him about what men of color need to be looking for in the future, like environment, energy, war and equality," Peterson said. "I will be answering some questions he has asked about that I can't really answer right now."

To learn more about the consortium, go to the consortium website or the conference agenda.

Contact: Division of Communications