The inaugural Virginia Conference on Race (VCR) took place April 7 and 8 on Roanoke College’s campus, bringing students and faculty from nearly a dozen institutions to share their ideas and experiences on race.
Students from 11 schools presented on topics that fit the theme of “Intersections.” They explored the areas where race intersects with memory, the environment, the economy, art and more. Virginia Conference on Race Founder and Organizer Dr. Carrie Murawski coordinated the event, which was sponsored by the College’s Center for Studying Structures of Race.
The 11 schools that participated in the Virginia Conference on Race included: Harvard University, Virginia Tech, James Madison University, Randolph-Macon College, University of Lynchburg, Washington and Lee University, Christopher Newport University, Longwood University, Hollins University, Radford University, and Roanoke College. The keynote speaker was Dr. Morgan Smalls, an assistant professor at James Madison University in the School of Media Arts and Design. Her presentation focused on the depiction of Black women in popular culture and the public perception of these depictions.
Murawski, an assistant professor of English and communication studies at Roanoke College, said she organized something similar when she was a graduate student at Texas A&M University. She said that getting a wide variety of speakers and topics was important as she and her colleagues were deciding how to put the conference together.
“Let's bring in other students, other members of the community to come together and have these conversations about what we can do as anti-racism activists and advocates,” Murawski said. “And let's take this moment to build communities, meet new people and learn from each other.”
“Let's bring in other students, other members of the community to come together and have these conversations about what we can do as anti-racism activists and advocates. And let's take this moment to build communities, meet new people and learn from each other.”
Virginia Conference on Race Founder and Organizer Dr. Carrie Murawski
One of those students was Roanoke College economics major Youssef Labriny ‘22. He spoke about inequities in the labor market, specifically focused on the employment gap between Black Americans and white Americans. His advisor, Dr. Alice Kassens, the John S. Shannon Professor of Economics at Roanoke College, encouraged him to do the presentation.
Labriny said this was the first time presenting at a conference, and he was pleasantly surprised by the great attendance.
“I think this is definitely something that's necessary,” Labriny said. “...I think it's amazing that it's now being put in the spotlight.”
Murawski was also pleased with attendance. She said the atmosphere at the presentations was “energizing,” and that it was exciting to see collaborations and connections forming right before her eyes. The presentations from both graduate and undergraduate students were compelling and fascinating, she said, and she hopes the topics and overall energy of this year’s event gets even more students interested next year.
“I hope that Roanoke College students can look at this conference and be like, ‘Oh, I could do that,’ and submit next year,” Murawksi said.