Inaugural student conference examines intergenerational diasporas

Founders College at York University hosted its first annual student conference “Speaking Diasporas: Interrogating Intergenerational Diasporas” on April 23, with the goal of building ongoing conversational dialogues within and across generations of those conceiving themselves as belonging to diasporas.

The conference provided students with a platform to discuss the complexities of diasporas and their relationships to it, and offered undergraduate students the opportunity to be involved in an academic conference and experience the world of academia beyond the classroom.

Panellists standing (left to right): Khadeja Elsibai, Catherine Grant, Ranjith Kulatilake, Shivanie Mahabir, Leidy Alpízar, Ian Hood, Nuren Saif, Professor Pablo Idahosa, college head; and sitting (left to right): Umaimah Adan-Ismael, Adabu Brownhill Jefwa, Gurleen Tak. Absent: Chantal Joachim

The panel consisted of 11 undergraduate and graduate students, and brought together students, alumni, community members and researchers to take part in the discussion. The conference was divided into three panels: the first focused on Arab and Haitian diasporas as well as understanding diasporas through the lenses of globalization and land relations; the second explored Punjabi-Canadian fashion, environmental racism and Japanese-Canadian literature; and the final panel centred on sexuality, food culture, Afro-Jamaican diasporas in Costa Rica, and income inequality and intersectionality. Each panel followed with an open discussion on the themes presented.

“The discussions allowed attendees to critically examine the notion of diasporas and our relationships with identity,” said Khadeja Elsibai, a fourth-year student in French studies. “Through the thoughts expressed, I realized the commonality that existed between the diasporas in Canada and abroad. My participation on the panel was a unique opportunity to express my experiences as a member of a diaspora and present my research at my first academic conference.”

Fourth-year student Ian Hood, who is studying disaster and emergency management, said the conference gave him the opportunity to present his paper.

“My particular paper was one I had been sitting on for a while now and I was very proud of its content, but never had a venue for presenting it to others. Since it was such a personal piece of work to me – I identify as Nikkei (i.e. Japanese diaspora) myself – I was hesitant about presenting a paper exploring these experiences, but I’m very glad that I did,” he said. “Events like this make York the welcoming community that it is. Having the opportunity to present my work on the topic of Nikkei was a great experience and the positive response from such knowledgeable participants in the conference not only made me feel empowered but helped me understand many facets of different diasporic experiences as well as to better understand my own.”

This day-long, student-focused conference is the first iteration of a restatement about diaspora that will next year involve a larger conference and academics from outside York University.