2006 Post-Conference Report
PRSA 7th Biennial Conference
Puerto Rican Studies Association
October 5–8, 2006
Ithaca, New York
The PRSA Program Committee for the 2006 PRSA Conference was chaired by Gladys M. Jiménez Muñoz. The members of the Committee were: Frederic W. Gleach (Cornell University); Kelvin A. Santiago-Valles (SUNY, Binghamton); Charles Venator-Santiago (Ithaca College); Myrna García-Calderón (Syracuse University); Roberto Márquez (Mt. Holyoke College); Mérida Rúa (Williams College); Luis Aponte-Parés (University of Massachusetts, Boston) and our PRSA President, Vilma Santiago-Irizarry (Cornell University)
BACKGROUND TO THE CONFERENCE
During the Summer of 2005 Vilma Santiago Irrizarry, Fred Gleach, Gladys Jimenez, and Kelvin Santiago met several times (June 7, June 17, September 17, 2005) to put together the Call for Papers and the theme of the conference. The theme came after a long discussion looking for a theme that would attract a great majority of our members. Eventually, we decided that the topic of our 7th Biannual PRSA Conference would be: “Speaking the Unspoken: Race and Its Intersections in Puerto Rican Experience.” The dates of the conference: 5-8 October, 2006. Our Conference venue: Cornell University, Ithaca NY.
The Conference theme was a point of departure to explore “the centrality of race as a significant, usually unaddressed, component of the experience in Puerto Rican communities both on the island and in the diaspora.” The conference was designed to “provide a series of forums and activities where participants can come together to reflect on and discuss how race and its intersections, both conceptually and practically, are more fundamental to the Puerto Rican experience than is generally acknowledged in Puerto Rican scholarship.” The Call for Papers was sent to the membership in September 2005. The deadline for the proposal submissions was February 15, 2006.
The PRSA 2006 Conference was dedicated to Isabelo Zenón Cruz, and we invited feminist activist and lawyer Ana Irma Rivera Lassén to do the dedication of the conference which included a lecture and analysis of Zenón’s work. The art work for the poster of the Conference was designed by artist Juan Sánchez. He also presented a workshop for the conference. Fred Gleach organized the Conference party and performance for Saturday night, calling on New York City artist Adál Maldonado, who in turn arranged for and emceed performances by Mariposa, Flaco Navaja, and the band ¡Vaya! led by Frank Cotto, along with Adáls own video.
[Editor's Note: Prof. Isabelo Zenón Cruz, formerly professor of Spanish at the Universidad de Puerto Rico-Río Piedras, was the author of the the landmark study Narciso descubre su trasero (2 vols., 1975-76), which focuses on anti-African racism in Puerto Rican literature.]
MEETING TO SELECT PANELS FOR THE CONFERENCE
The Program Committee met from Friday February 24 to Sunday February 26, 2006 to make the selection among all the paper proposals and panel proposals submitted for the Conference. The Program Committee selected a total of one hundred and thirty five (135) papers to form thirty five (35) panels, two (2) plenary sessions with eight (8) participants, for a grand total of one hundred and sixty eight (168) participants (including moderators). We also included two workshops: one for Tenure and Promotion and another for Graduate Students.
The Committee was very good at incorporating individual presentations into full panels and in choosing panel titles that fully and closely reflected the papers to be presented. The program committee also worked very hard to make sure that sessions wouldn’t completely overlap — that is, that concurrent panels addressed a range of topics trying to cut any repetition to avoid scheduling conflicts and to make it possible for people who were presenting in different panels and working with the same issue to listen to each other. This problem is usually one of the most difficult issues to resolve at any conference.
Kelvin Santiago-Valles organized two Plenary Panel-Sessions (one for each day) that were incorporated in the program. Issues of representation of diverse theoretical frameworks related to the conference’s theme and gender were taken into consideration for the composition of all the panels. At the end, availability was an important factor.
Membership, Conference Registration and Program Package:
As part of the logistics for the Conference we included the following information in a welcome letter by e-mail and in our website:
- Hotels providing transportation to the conference site.
- Maps for the city and campus and schedule of bus routes and taxi-service phone numbers
- Restaurant addresses and phone numbers.
The registration included breakfast and lunch for all registered participants. In this way we retained all the participants at the conference site, in an effort to guarantee their attendance at the afternoon panels.
Two hundred rooms were reserved in local hotels and a special rate was negotiated with the selected hotels.
Support/Grants to Graduate and Activists:
PRSA offered six grants of $500.00 each for graduate students who were presenting at the conference and, for the first time at a PRSA Conference, we added a grant to support an activist attending the Conference..
PRE-CONFERENCE EVENT AT SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY
We want to thank Myrna García-Calderón for organizing a Pre-Conference event in Syracuse that made possible the attendance to the conference of members from Puerto Rico and also added publicity for our main conference at Cornell. We encourage members to creatively organize such events for future Conferences.
OUTCOMES OF THE CONFERENCE
Thursday October 5, 2006:
The overall conference was a success.
A last-minute cancellation eliminated both workshops scheduled for Thursday October 5th. Graduate and undergraduate students manifested the need for a space in which to discuss their research, whether at a workshop or at special discussion panels. For those outside of New York, where the intellectual presence of Puerto Ricans might not be as intense, it is imperative to be able to make connections with peers and future colleagues in order to create cross-country solidarity networks and lines of communication. By scheduling these workshops before the beginning of the conference, we hoped to avoid a conflict among potential workshop participants who would feel torn between doing a workshop and attending a session. Future conference organizers should not drop the idea and continue to include such workshop events in future programs as long as PRSA has the resources to do so.
A strategy that both graduate and undergraduate students were — and should continue to be — welcome to use for opening up spaces for themselves in future conferences is to develop panel proposals. PRSA certainly got individual paper submissions from graduate students and incorporated them into panels organized by the program committee. Students should be encouraged in the “Call for Papers” to organize panels with faculty advisors and mentors.
Two of the student participants did poster presentations, which were quite successful. The added opportunities for interaction make this an especially useful form for students, although open to anyone, and we encourage their continued use.
We had full attendance to the opening presentations and reception. Ana Irma Rivera Lassén’s presentation on Isabelo Zenón Cruz’ work was brilliant and attracted a lot of members to the inaugural activity. Charles Venator Santiago’s follow-up presentation on Critical Race Theory was also a great way to introduce the theme of the Conference. The generous reception sponsored by Africana Studies followed these two inaugural presentations and attracted a lot of participants.
Friday 6 and Saturday 7, October 2006:
Panels started early in the morning at 8:30AM . We had excellent attendance for early panels. The Conference program provided a highly accurate “at-a-glance” schedule of events/presentations. Participants manifested approval of the program presentation structure. PRSA future Program Committees should consider this type of program structure for future conferences.
We were able to make the appropriate changes in time for the conference and provide an addendum to the program thanks to the follow-up and coordination of Marti Dense. She kept record of all the changes and we were able to offer a very accurate and complete day-to-day program. Fred Gleach was also able to post one of the final versions of the program on our website.
Inevitably, some panels overflowed while others barely had anyone in their audience, whether due to the weight of the research being presented, who was presenting, the timeslot and location, or other factors. The organization of the panels is a very complicated issue. We know of no scholarly conference that doesn’t suffer from some kind of panel conflict. The idea of having two plenary panel-sessions (one for each day) gave the conference cohesiveness and a space for participants to debate differences and diverse theoretical frameworks related to the conference’s theme. Both plenary panels were fully attended.
The PRSA business meeting was scheduled for Friday October 6 at 6:45-7:15PM. It too was fully attended. The members supported two sites/venues proposals for the next two PRSA Conferences. The venue for the 2008 Conference is going to be Puerto Rico and the 2010 Conference will be in Hartford, Connecticut.
It was decided that the PRSA Secretariat would continue to be located at Cornell, in the Latino Studies Program, for the time being. This arrangement was very effective over the past two years, and will give more stability to our organization.
We talked about the need to organize our archives and to fully document the history of PRSA. El Centro at Hunter College-CUNY mentioned they possessed extensive documentation related to PRSA and its events.
Fred Gleach organized at the last minute a video screening for Saturday. This had been planned as a possibility from the beginning, but plans had not been formalized. Fred decided to take advantage of the space that we had reserved anyway, and put together a short program. Despite the late organization and publicity, about 10 people came for at least part of the screening. We encourage this to be continued when possible.
The fact that the PRSA Party was scheduled for Saturday night made possible a great attendance at the Saturday morning panels. We encourage future Program Committees to schedule the party for the last night of the conference (as opposed to the having the party take place the night before conference morning-sessions).
The connection with the Latino Civic Association as a co-sponsor for PRSA party and performance was another excellent idea. It gave PRSA the opportunity to do outreach to local Puerto Rican residents as well as the wider Latino community in Ithaca. This last event attracted a good number of off-campus community members.
As usual, there were interesting and important recommendations for our next conference:
- It was suggested that, due to the membership composition of our Association, we should submit the Call for Papers both in Spanish and English.
- As an organization, PRSA can reach out to different McNair cohorts across the country, in order to create more stable connections for future Puerto Rican scholars and offer them the opportunity to interact with professors who, not only share their interests, but who — as Boricuas already in the field — can provide mentorship and guidance as well. It is imperative to reach out to other undergraduate students as well, and let them know they may be eligible to give presentations at our conferences as well.
- If we can get a certain number of poster presentations, it may be even possible to allot a specific time period dedicated to looking at them. That way, graduate students, professors, and other professional researchers and/or community activists can give thorough feedback to the poster-presentation authors without having to choose between those and spoken presentations.
- Graduate and undergraduate student representatives were not nominated for any student position for this year’s ballot. This isn’t the first time that PRSA has had to issue a ballot without any student nominees on it, and there is historical precedent for direct appointment. Moreover, not all those who have served on the council fully achieved their task; as tends to happen with other organizational offices, people have a lot of work or get caught up in unexpected circumstances. We need to attract more graduate and undergraduate students to volunteer to serve on the PRSA’s executive council.
Overall, people were greatly impressed with the organization and the quality of the panels that were organized during this year’s Conference.
by Gladys M. Jiménez Muñoz
Program Committee Chair
Binghamton University (SUNY)