English Graduate Conference

Taking Up Spaces

June 19, 2019

This year’s English Graduate Conference, Taking Up Spaces, recently took place and it was a success! The conference planning committee formed in early September, and we have spent the past ten months putting together a conference with the goal of highlighting the fantastic work of students within, and beyond, Simon Fraser University’s English department. As a graduate student - who has had very limited experience with conferences - being able to put together this conference was both stressful and exciting but, most importantly, it was an incredible learning experience. There were a few key factors that made Taking Up Spaces successful, and I’d like to reflect on them post-conference.

First off, I want to note the location in which the conference was held. This year’s conference took place at the Native Education College in Vancouver. This venue was entirely different than past conferences, as they frequently have taken place on SFU campuses. Holding the conference at the Native Education College was an important choice for us, as the conference theme – Taking Up Spaces – was one that encourages you to consider the spaces in which we work, learn, and live. As students who live in the Greater Vancouver area we must to recognize – and respect - that we are living on the land on the unceded territory of the Musqueam Nation, Squamish Nation, Tsawwassen Nation and the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. In holding Taking Up Spaces at the NEC we moved away from the confines of the academic institution into a space that speaks to the land in which we live. The Native Education College opened their doors to us, and we are incredibly grateful that we were able to hold this year’s conference in such an amazing venue.

Another exciting component of Taking Up Spaces were the unique keynote speakers that came to open, and then close, our conference. We were lucky to have Dr. Jordan Abel present on the first night of the conference, discussing his new book and his artistic approach to the images found within it. Dr. Abel is a recent graduate of the English department and offered a talk that was touching, intimate, and thought provoking. On Sunday night, for our closing keynote, we were excited to have Dr. Paul Kingsbury – from the Geography department of SFU – give a talk titled “What Goes on at a UFO Conference? A Geographical Study from a Lacanian Perspective.” This talk was the perfect fit for our conference, as Dr. Kingsbury offered a psychoanalytic perspective of UFO conferences and the space in which they inhabit. These two keynotes, while undeniably different in terms of academic approach, were both perfect additions to our conference and we are incredibly grateful that Dr. Abel and Dr. Kingsbury took time out of their busy schedules to present at the conference.

Beyond our fantastic keynotes we were also lucky enough to have Edmonton artist, Marina Hulzenga, attend the conference and set up a spatial installation that conference attendees could experience over the three days in which the conference took place. Having this installation was important to us, as we wanted Taking Up Spaces to be interdisciplinary and feature creative pieces among the many amazing academic papers that were presented. Another way in which we were able to increase diversity and perspectives was through the choice to allow undergraduate students the opportunity to present their work. While the conference was mainly targeted towards graduate students, from any discipline, we wanted to provide undergraduate students with the option to experience a conference and present work that they are proud of. This decision proved to be the right one, as all of our undergraduate panelists (including Isabella Wang, Felix Ruiz de la Orden, Alyssa Bridgman, and Gianluca Bertoia) presented work that fit in perfectly with their fellow graduate student panelists.

As I wrap up, I’d like to thank everyone who made this conference a reality. First off, I’d like to thank the English department for providing us with the tools to plan a conference and make it a reality, as well as the amazing staff and faculty who assisted us throughout the process. Likewise, we need to say a special thanks to all of the faculty members who agreed to moderate panels over the conference weekend. I’d also like to thank the volunteers who offered a helping hand with various tasks and, last but not least, all of the attendees who came out to support the panelists and keynotes! We had a fantastic turnout, which provided all of our presenters with the opportunity to share their ideas with a larger audience and take part in exciting and lively question periods.

Taking Up Spaces has come and gone, but I know that next year’s graduate conference will be another one for the books.