Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Selecting Conference Sites: No Longer a Simple Matter

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Selecting Conference Sites: No Longer a Simple Matter

Article excerpt

Selecting Conference Sites: No longer a simple matter


LOS ANGELES-When the Student National Medical Association held its 2000 convention late last month, its leaders were keenly aware that they were meeting in a state that has an infamous anti-affirmative action law on the books.

Yet despite grumbling from members who opposed convening in an anti-affirmative action state, the annual meeting forged ahead here with nearly 1,500 of the organization's 5,000 members.

"We contracted with California three years ago," explains Annette McLane, executive director of the association, founded as a support network for medical students of color. "[Proposition] 209 had already passed, and we knew we had a number of challenges."

The association had a very strong chapter in California that officials were concerned about alienating.

However, to demonstrate their concern about higher education access for students of color, association leaders scheduled a rally at the Westwood federal building during the conference in support of "dissolving disparities in medicine," where they circulated a petition inort of diversity.

Other groups faced with similar quandaries have simply relocated conferences. Ask the folks in the hotel industry in South Carolina. They'll relate tales of lots of lost dollars due to cancellations by many college sports teams and other scholarly organizations because of the Confederate flag that still flies above the state's Capitol.

In fact, the National Collegiate Athletic Association is threatening to cancel all sports events in that state, including the 2002 mens's basketball regional in Greenville, unless the flag is removed by the time the executive committee meets on Aug. 11. Such a move by the NCAA would be the most prominent protest since the NAACP announced a tourism boycott last summer.

But ducking out of hotel commitments can be tricky given the three- to six-year advance contracts required for selecting sites, and the often prohibitive penalties.

These and other varied machinations, decisions and reversals are only a few of the complexities that surround selecting conference sites in today's climate of heightened sociopolitical awareness. Each year the selection process becomes more delicate, and the negotiations more intense.

Yet given the increased tensions surrounding police brutality, anti-affirmative action initiatives, Confederate and semi-Confederate flags and whatever issues may surface in the future, the process of site selection is likely to get thornier before it gets smoother.

It's not clear how much direct effect boycotts and other protests have on the pockets, policies or politics of the intended sufferers -- or whether the associations themselves end up with more financial and political strife. But many scholarly organizations are finding that when it comes to supporting an important cause, the reshuffling is well worth it.

Sticky Situations

Officials with the National Black Association for Speech, Language and Hearing also found themselves in a predicament after California voters approved Proposition 209. For their 1997 convention, association leaders chose to move their annual meeting from Oakland, Calif., to Milwaukee.

"Our California members took it rather personally," says Dr. Eugene Wiggins, the association's director. "And they are very active members."

Then last month, the organization held its 2000 meeting in Jackson, Miss., only to find that they were faced with another location their members might object to.

Upon their arrival, the group found Mississippi officials in the midst of wrangling over the state flag, which bears a strong resemblance to the Confederate "stars and bars."

While the Jackson City Council voted to remove the flag from its meeting room, it still flies over the Capitol -- a short distance from the conference headquarters. …

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