Building Bridges is a student organization which focuses on educating community members on issues relating to social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. The organization hosts an annual conference each year which focuses on a current and relevant issue. Entirely student run, the conference includes keynote speakers, workshops, and more.
Senior Gabe Grosshuesch and Junior Liza Long serve as this year’s Building Bridges Co-Chairs. Grosshuesch is an Environmental Studies Major and African Studies Minor, and Long is a double major in Political Science and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. Together, they are responsible for selecting keynote speakers, managing the budget, determining logo and marketing designs, leading meetings, overseeing committees and subcommittees, planning events, and deciding the theme of the annual conference.
“We chose this year’s topic as activism because we felt the need for a conference that would give participants skills to advocate for a cause.” – Liza Long ‘18
This year’s conference is titled, “Uprooting Injustice: Fostering the Growth of Grassroots Movements,” and will explore grassroots activism and its necessity in today’s world. More specifically, this conference will focus on the connection between justice, peace, and sustainability, and the way in which the community can build multifaceted movements surrounding these three main themes of activism.
“We chose this year’s topic as activism because we felt the need for a conference that would give participants skills to advocate for a cause. I’ve noticed a lot of passion on this campus, but not as much action or community building as there could be. I hope that students and all attendees will gain an understanding of why activism is so necessary to create change, and be inspired to make change in their own lives,” Long said.
Following recent events, this year’s topic is particularly applicable.
“This year’s conference on Grassroots Activism is increasingly relevant to current events, embodying many trends across the United States, with escalating activism and widespread resistance to the Trump administration. Obviously, the election turned out much differently than almost all conventional political analysts predicted, but I think it only highlights the importance of this year’s conference, which aims to teach conference attendees and community members how to build and sustain effective grassroots movements about topics important to them and their community,” Junior Aaron Miller said.
Although the topic was chosen over six months ago, its relevancy is now calling students to action.
“People should attend this year’s conference because it is time to make change. We have watched time and time again as our fellow people are pushed down and down by systems of oppression and privilege and we can no longer stand for this. We all share a humanity and for some people to look at other humans as lesser can no longer be tolerated. We must stand for Justice, Peace, and Sustainability for each and every person, while also addressing the need to care for our common home,” Grosshuesch said.
“People should attend this year’s conference because it is time to make change.” – Gabe Grosshuesch ‘17
Many conference participants also feel a personal connection to the topic.
“This year’s conference is especially personal for me, because it is tied very closely with my own passions in climate justice, indigenous rights, and sustainability. I am hoping that, because the conference is more all-encompassing this year with the focus being on peace, justice, and sustainability, it will draw in a larger crowd with more diverse backgrounds and focuses,” Sophomore Sofie Wicklund said.
Prior to the conference, there is an extensive amount of work that goes into making the day a success. The work is split into three committees that operate diligently throughout the year in preparation. These committees include Action Piece, Workshops, and Events.
“Action Piece works toward creating an interpretive walkthrough in Beck Hall, incorporating theatrical pieces, artwork, displays, spoken word, and other mediums to visually convey the topic of the conference. Workshops are responsible for developing workshop pieces that will also be taking place in Beck and primarily involve more concrete ways of exploring how to become an activist, things you can do, etc. Events is the third committee, and they are in charge of planning events leading up to the conference, including an event each night of Building Bridges Week,” Junior Bri Jol said.
Another component of the Building Bridges conference includes keynote speakers. This year’s speakers include Nekima Levy-Pounds and Winona LaDuke, both passionate activists.
“Levy-Pounds served as president of the Minneapolis NAACP; under her leadership, the chapter coordinated closely with Black Lives Matter to protest police violence against people of color as well as Minnesota’s racial disparities in ‘key indicators of quality of life’, which are some of the worst in the nation. LaDuke is another extremely high-powered activist, who has led the fight toward renewable energy and sustainable food systems, especially among indigenous communities,” Miller said.
“I wanted to advocate for the rights of the oppressed, especially those impacted by the intersectionality of their multiple marginalized identities.” – Hannah Mahr ‘20
Both speakers are inspirational leaders in the community and advocate for justice, peace, and sustainability. Along with the opportunity to listen to two distinct activists, attendees can also participate in seven different workshops, and an action piece.
“Participants will have various opportunities for interactive learning, whether it’s through improv theatre, campaign management, or implicit bias training,” Long said.
Throughout the conference, attendees will experience the role of grassroots action in bringing about social change.
“I hope people leave thinking about the challenges of organizing grassroots movements and the need for our society to respect that and advocate for more social change,” Grosshuesch said.
Aimed at inspiring, educating, and motivating its attendees, the 22nd annual Building Bridges Conference will be held on Saturday, Mar. 4.