Gustavus hosted the 24th annual Building Bridges Conference on Saturday, March 2, 2019 focusing on this year’s theme of Immigration: Demolishing the Legacy of Bigotry in the Land of Opportunity.
There were workshops and a keynote address from Julissa Arce, as well as panels where the topic could be discussed even further, and an interactive piece for student engagement.
A tremendous amount of effort and work went into choosing a theme and building a meaningful and significant conference. Planning began before the 2018-2019 academic school year began.
“We started preliminary planning in the summer. That included choosing the topic for the conference, assembling an executive board, and pooling together a list of potential keynote speakers,” one of this year’s Building Bridges Co-Chairs, Senior Daniella Habib, said.
The goal of the conference was to address immigration and how the immigration policy has been used to justify acts of racism and other acts of bigotry toward minorities in American society.
The set-up of the conference looked similar to last year but contained a different, relevant topic.
“The structure of the conference was consistent with years past. However, our co-chairs, Grace Tibben-Lemke and Daniella Habib, [got] the privilege of choosing a timely topic, so of course that changes every year with every new set of co-chairs. Our committee was 100 percent behind it and hit the ground running when it came to preparing for this conference,” Graphic Design Chair, Junior Joy Dunna said.
Building Bridges members hoped that this conference will help students to gain new perspective and open up to talking about the topic.
“We [hoped] students can gain a new perspective on immigration and encourage them to critically think about modern immigration in the world today,” Diversity Leadership Council representative, Junior Abbie Biegner, said.
They also hoped students feel inspired to take action after attending the conference.
“We do Building Bridges because we want to spark larger discussions, critical thinking, and long-term activism for whatever you may be passionate about,” Habib said.
In addition to sparking action amongst students and young people, Habib also commented on the aim that Building Bridges takes to build confidence in individuals and their power of influence in the world.
“The overall purpose of Building Bridges is to inspire others and give them a set of tools that allow them to be effective advocates in their own right and dispel any notions that each of us as individuals can’t make a difference in creating positive social change,” Habib said.
This event allowed students to engage with informed individuals on the topic in order to have important conversations with their peers about a topic that affects both our nation and the world at large.
“In terms of the topic itself, immigration has been a central and hot button issue in the national political sphere and as a global issue, and we should all be informed about it. This conference [offered] attendees a more personal understanding of our country’s history of immigration, the development of U.S. immigration policy, and present-day issues in our system. Through education, we are able to invite one another to participate in dialogue to reach deeper compassion and understanding for the people our country continues to dehumanize,” Habib said.
The speakers spoke about the informational topic, as well as added a personal touch to the subject based on their own experiences. Keynote speaker Julissa Arce, an immigrant rights advocate and author of the book “My (Underground) American Dream,” was an example of this.
“Julissa Arce was definitely my favorite part of building bridges as she spoke about her own story and the seriousness of the issue of immigration, while still keeping everyone laughing,” Senior Courtney Erickson said.
Students who attended the conference seemed to gain a lot from the information and discussions through the speakers and panels.
“It was super beneficial for me to hear an immigrant’s story and be able to understand more about the process of what it takes to become a United States citizen and the hardships that immigrants face in day to day life,” Junior Ingrid Bassinger said.
Bassinger also appreciated the choice in a such a pertinent topic: “…I think the topic was extremely relevant to what is going on in our country today,” Bassinger said.
The work put into the conference by the Building Bridges committee did not go unnoticed and it made for an all around informational, memorable and successful event.
“Great job to all of the people who worked so hard to put this amazing day together,” Bassinger said.