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On-Campus Conference Lifts Up Student Voices

by Alexis Barton

For its second year, Roanoke College hosted the Virginia Conference on Race (VCR), a two-day interdisciplinary conference that examines racial issues from a variety of academic lenses. The conference is sponsored by RC’s own Center for Studying Structures of Race and is directed by Dr. Carrie Murawski, an assistant professor of communication studies. The conference draws in student presenters from a variety of academic disciplines, including communication studies, history, environmental studies, and public health. These students are largely from Roanoke College, but there are representatives from schools across the Commonwealth as well as students from Illinois and Massachusetts. 

In addition to fostering critical conversations about the role of race in our society, the VCR provides a unique opportunity for Roanoke College to present their own research. Students can present their work from seminar or capstone classes, or they can create an endeavor that is unique to the conference. Madison Smith ‘24, a history major from Colorado, has been researching the experience of Korean students in Jim Crow era American universities for several months alongside Dr. Stella Xu. Madison shared, “Asian immigrants were in such a unique position in this time, trapped between the dichotomy of white and Black racism, yet there is hardly any scholarship connecting their experiences to the context of their time. This research seeks to fill that scholarly void and add to the scant literature on Asians in the deep South.” Though her research did not connect to her history seminar, her relationship with Dr. Xu piqued her interest and brought this new area of research to her repertoire. “[Dr. Xu] really encouraged me to apply and without her, I probably would have been too scared. This conference is so amazing, bringing a massive audience all in one place to have productive and needed conversations about race. It also allows me to push for important discussions regarding Anti-Asian racism, US and Korea relations, and Roanoke College’s historical ties with Korea.” 

The conference is unique in that it accepts research from any academic discipline. This excited junior Nora Terrill when she found out this news, sharing that, “… my professor, Dr. Hartman, announced that the conference was now accepting submissions and I decided to give it a go. I had originally created this presentation for my senior capstone in high school, but I felt like it fit the theme of the conference so well that I revised it and sent it in!” Her presentation “Uprooted: How Urban Renewal Destroys Black Communities” explores the relationship between developments in major cities and informal racial segregation and discrimination. Some examples include interstate systems that create a barrier between predominantly white neighborhoods and predominantly Black neighborhoods, cutting residents off from employment, education, and other vital resources. Nora shared that the VCR was a very approachable start to her career in research, sharing that, “ [the] VCR being on campus really encouraged me to go for it. It makes it a little less nerve-wracking. I am really excited to present on campus because I get to support my peers and share a topic I am very passionate about with them.”

This year, the VCR featured over 30 unique student presentations in addition to a documentary viewing and a “History of Enslavement” walking tour. These presentations ranged from “The Gentrification of Black Hair Care & Culture” by Esther Darko and “New Age Colonialism: How Shell has Perpetuated Environmental and Racial Injustice in Nigeria” by Mikaela Gantz, to “The Associations between State-Level Policies and Health Differences by Race, Ethnicity, and Sexual Identity” by Hunter Bohon & Dr. Kristen Rapp and “Appalachian Atlantis: On Fonta Flora, NC, and the Mass Displacement of Historically Black Communities in Rural Appalachia” by Ari Macquarie. 

For more information about how to get involved with next year’s conference, reach out to Dr. Carrie Murawski (murawski@roanoke.edu) or look out for a conference call next fall with more information about the theme, submitting, and registration details. 

Congratulations to the following Roanoke students and faculty for presenting at the 2023 Virginia Conference on Race: Samantha Andrews, Hunter Bohon, Esther Darko, Tori Duncan, Michael Eaves, Mikaela Gantz, Ivey Kline, Ari Macquarie, Casey McGirt, Jim Nichols, Reese Owen, Sydney Pennix, Lillian Pingel, Ashtyn Porter, Makenna Prillaman, Dr. Kristen Rapp, Madison Smith, Nora Terrill.