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XIth REP Conference Summary
The XIth Race, Ethnicity and Place Conference
Justice and the City in an Age of Social Division
October 20-23, 2021
The XI Race, Ethnicity, and Place Conference, held in collaboration with the Middle Atlantic Division (MAD) of the American Association of Geographers, took place at the Hotel Indigo Downtown and the Maryland Center for History and Culture (MCHC) in the historic downtown Mt. Vernon District of Baltimore City. The conference was a collaboration of faculty organizers from the University of Baltimore, Morgan State University, and Towson University with administrative support from the Department of Geography at Texas State University and significant financial support from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The conference, with focus on engaging the local community, brought together 282 participants, a significant portion of whom were from populations historically underrepresented in geography and academia. Of the total registered participants, 162 were faculty members or professional staff members, and 120 were students. The hybrid format, with paper and panel sessions including both in-person and virtual presenters and audiences, drew 156 participants in-person and another 136 virtually.
The conference kicked off with an NSF-sponsored pre-conference workshop at Morgan State University focusing on promoting geography at HBCUs, PBIs, HSIs, Tribal Colleges, and other MSIs. The 30 participants included 20 people presently teaching at or intending to teach at an HBCU or other MSI; 10 partners with experience in building and sustaining degree programs and generating research; interdisciplinary faculty and staff from Morgan State University; and representatives of the American Association of Geographers and NSF. Participants engaged in robust discussion, shared ideas, addressed opportunities and challenges to build diversity into the career pipeline from undergraduate programs to professional geographers, and came away committed to developing and sustaining a professional network committed to promoting geography in HBCUs and other MSIs.
The two and a half days of the conference started off with a Wednesday evening welcome session on October 20, with poet Unique Robinson welcoming attendees to Baltimore with a spoken word performance inviting the attendees to learn from the struggles and successes of Baltimore’s citizens. Thursday and Friday, the 21st and 22nd, were devoted to 32 separate and diverse paper and panel sessions on topics that included both American and international academic perspectives on place and refuge, asylum, borders, immigrant communities and diasporas along with issues of environmental justice, food justice, healthcare justice, social and socio-spatial justice, workforce justice, and housing and gentrification. Diversity in Covid-19 impacts, the experience of being Black in America, community engagement, and making sense of the 2020 US Census rounded out the topics.
Featured panels inspired by the pre-conference workshop theme of promoting geography in HBCUs and MSIs allowed for in-depth discussion on topics that included researching race, racialization, and anti-racism; promoting geography at HBCUs and other MSIs; departmental and interdisciplinary program inclusion and diversity initiatives; recruiting, sustaining, and retaining diverse faculty and students; mentoring and professional development for underrepresented faculty and students; teaching to diverse intersectionalities; opportunities for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI)-related research at the National Science Foundation; and integrating JEDI into the AAG.
Several book talks provided a new feature for REP and MAD. University of Baltimore law professor Gilda Daniels discussed her new edition of Uncounted: The Crisis in Voter Suppression in the United States (NYU, 2021) at Red Emma’s Bookstore and Coffeeshop on Thursday evening. Saturday morning, author Lawrence Lanahan and three community members he had interviewed for his book discussed The Lines Between Us: Two Families and a Quest to Cross Baltimore’s Racial Divide (The New Press, 2019).
A highlight for many was the Friday plenary with a focus on community engagement and Baltimore. Among the speakers was Kurt Schmoke, the first elected Black mayor of Baltimore and now president of the University of Baltimore, reflecting on the strengths of the city in the present moment; Roger Hartley, dean of the University of Baltimore’s College of Public Affairs, addressing the university’s role in public service; and Ron Williams, University of Baltimore adjunct lecturer in ethics who read his own poetry about living in Baltimore. All of this was prelude to an address by writer and University of Baltimore lecturer D Watkins, whose story of rising from crack dealer to a voice from forgotten Black America was inspiring. Conference attendees each received a copy of Watkins’s most recent book. A catered reception in the lobby of the Maryland Center for History and Culture followed.
On Saturday, a number of conference attendees walked the Pennsylvania Avenue Main Street area, once the center of Black economic and cultural life in Baltimore, to engage directly with community members and assess the impact of structural racism and the Covid-19 pandemic on the avenue and its adjacent neighborhoods.
The conference would not have been possible without the generous support of many institutions, academic departments, the American Association of Geographers, the National Science Foundation, and the T. Rowe Price Foundation. We are extremely grateful for all of this support.
We look forward to seeing you at the next REP XII, October 2023 at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville!
You can keep an eye on developments at www.repconference.org.
Mark Barnes, Morgan State University
Sarah Blue, Texas State University
Jeremy Tasch, Towson University/MAD-AAG
Joseph Wood, University of Baltimore