2010 Post-Conference Report
9th Biennial Conference
Puerto Rican Studies Association
21-24 October, 2010
The University of Connecticut
The Puerto Rican Studies Association held its 9th Biennial Conference in the Marriott Hartford Downtown, Connecticut, between October 21 and 23, 2010. This year’s conference theme, Cuerpos vigilados y castigados: Resistance and Empowerment in the Body Rican, aimed to foster an environment where scholars and local members of the Hartford Puerto Rican community could come together to engage in a critical dialogue. The Institute for Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at the University of Connecticut co-sponsored the event with the collaborative support of Trinity College, Eastern Connecticut State University, the Hartford City Council, the Connecticut Association of Latinos in Higher Education, the Hartford City Public Library, and the Wadsworth Athenaeum.
In 2006, during the 7th Biennial Conference held at Cornell University, NY, Professor Guillermo B. Irizarry (University of Connecticut) requested that the PRSA conference be held in the City of Hartford, CT. A local organizing committee was organized during the Fall of 2008 and met in December with the PRSA Secretariat and the conference program committee to agree on a plan of action.
For numerous reasons, Professor Charles R. Venator-Santiago (University of Connecticut), also a member of the Executive Committee, assumed the role of coordinator and began to work with a group of local faculty and community members. Local faculty and staff members included Professor Diana Rios (University of Connecticut), Professor Xaé A. Reyes (University of Connecticut), Professor Odette Casamayor-Cisneros (University of Connecticut), Maria Martinez (University of Connecticut); Professor Pablo Delano (Trinity College), Dean Xiangming Chen (Trinity College), Hon. Jason Rojas (Trinity College); Dean Carmen Cid, (Easter Connecticut State University), Professor Catina Cabán Owen, (Easter Connecticut State University); Estela Lopez (Local Consultant); Hon. Luis Cotto, (Hartford City Council); Leticia Cotto, (Hartford City Public Library), Richard Friederer, (Hartford City Public Library); Luiselle Rivera (Wadsworth Athenaeum); and Marela Zacarias (Artist).
The conference hosted forty-six (46) concurrent panels, one (1) keynote speaker, one (1) plenary panel, two (2) workshops, and three (3) evening activities over a two and a half day period. Unfortunately, we did not keep track of how many participants paid and attended the conference. In the future we need to figure out how to keep track of attendance.
The Conference Schedule
Unlike previous conferences, the 2010 conference was held over a period of 2 days. The decision to reduce the conference by one day was made in order to anticipate possible challenges facing participants in light of the recession, particularly in the areas of out of state travel bans. In the future we need to expand the conference by one day.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
The conference began on Thursday, October 21, 2010, with a Junior Faculty Workshop and a Graduate Student workshop hosted by Dean Xiangming Chen and the Center for Urban and Global Studies (CUGS), followed by a welcome reception at Trinity College.
Junior Faculty Workshop. Three junior faculty participated in the Junior Faculty seminar conducted by Edna Acosta Belén, Distinguished Professor of Latin American, Caribbean, U.S. Latinoa and Women’s Studies at SUNY-Albany; Barbara Sjostrom, Professor of Education-SUNY-Old Westbury; and Christine Bose, Professor of Sociology, also of SUNY-Albany. The presenters prepared a two-hour, in-depth seminar that addressed multiple dimensions of the tenure process. Participants reported that they found the workshop at once informative and useful.
The presenting faculty, certainly, could not have been better suited for their role. We, nonetheless, faced three challenges that ought to be kept in mind for future conferences. The workshops were, regrettably, held outside the main conference venue. This created an unavoidable logistical challenge with some participants feeling the workshop would have been better located in our primary hotel site. In addition to our not timely or effectively advertising it, the $25 dollar fee charged for entry also evidently discouraged more faculty from participating. Workshops, if we are to have them in future conferences, should be announced as part of the call for papers and advertised in messages sent to our members in the final weeks leading to the conference. We should also revisit whether we want to include them throughout the conference or only during its front end opening segments.
Graduate Student Workshop. Xae A. Reyes, Professor of Education, and Maria Martinez, Director of the Center for Academic Programs, both of the University of Connecticut, conducted the Graduate Student workshop. Placing a particular emphasis on academic and professional career development, more than 15 graduate students participated and took part, and evaluations were outstanding, just as those of the Junior Faculty Workshop. More timely organized, this workshop also received a bit more publicity. The graduate workshops were otherwise also hampered by the off-site location of the event.
Opening Reception. We held the inaugural reception at the Austin Arts Center on the campus of Trinity College in conjunction with an exhibition of the work of Angel Franco, the New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning photographer. This activity was organized by Professor Pablo Delano, of Trinity College’s Studio Arts Program. It began with formal remarks of salutation and welcome to the PRSA from the President of the College, James F. Jones. Vilma Santiago Irizarry, Chair of the PRSA Conference Program Committee offered an official welcome to PRSA’s membership, and PRSA president Gladys Jiménez expressed our appreciation and gratitude for President Jones’ support and sponsorship as host of our 9th Biennial Conference. The opening reception was, all in all, a great event and all-around winner. We did, however, face two challenges, namely a problem of transportation (back to the hotel) and running out of food and beverage before all could be sated. This was otherwise a very successful opening activity enhanced by the presence of Angel Franco and his fabulous exhibit.
Overall. The feedback on the substance of these activities was on the whole positive. Nonetheless, we received several complaints about the logistical elements. Transportation from the Hotel to Trinity College was poorly advertized and a bit uneven. Some participants felt the workshops were poorly publicized and added a significant extra expense to their participation at the Conference. Publicizing the workshops as part of the Call for Papers, holding workshops in the main conference venue free of charge, and structuring them so as to complement the overall conference rather than conceiving of them as distinct and separate activities are among some of the more obvious solutions worth considering.
Friday, October 22, 2010
In addition to the conference activities held in the Marriot Hotel, the Hartford City Public Library also served as host for a series of activities. Some of these were well attended; others were not.
Book fair. As part of the Northeast Latino Book Fair, we coordinated a series of book signings, and two conference participants, Andrés Torres, Research Associate at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College of The City University of New York, and Marisol Asencio, Institute for Puerto Rican Studies, University of Connecticut, presented their recently published books to the public. These presentations were not well attended by conference participants. It would appear that we need to keep such book signings in the same primary venue as the conference itself if we want better attendance. On the other hand, we were successful in bringing a dimension of the conference to the public.
City Tour. We also attempted to organize two city tours. Carol T. Correa, a staff member at Trinity College, organized the Puerto Rican Heritage Trail tour of the city of Hartford. Although Councilman Luis Cotto did take several participants on an unofficial walking tour, the official tour was not well attended.
Welcome Reception. Conference participants responded positively to the keynote speech by the President of Eastern Connecticut State University, Elsa Nuñez. President Nuñez gave participants an overview of her projects and on-going efforts within her institution and statewide, to enable inner-city students to complete successfully an undergraduate degree. Upon concluding, the audience awarded the speaker with a sustained standing ovation.
Following her talk, Roberto Márquez, PRSA President-Elect and Chair of the Association’s Book Award Committee, proceeded to announce the winners of PRSA’s first Book and Dissertation awards.
Angel G. Quintero-Rivera, of the Universidad de Puerto Rico-Río Piedras’s Centro de Investigaciones Sociales won the Book Award for Cuerpo y cultura: las músicas mulatas y la subversión del baile. (MadridFrankfurt: IberoamericanaVervuert, 2009). The Book Committee also awarded an Honorable Mention to Timothy Black’s When a Heart Turns Rock Solid: The Lives of Three Puerto Rican Brothers on and Off the Streets. (New York: Pantheon Books, 2009). Black is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Hartford and Director of its Center for Social Research.
Radost A. Rangelova, an Assistant Professor in the Spanish Department at Gettysburg College, won the Dissertation Award for “House, Factory, Beauty Salon, Brothel: Space, Gender, and Sexuality in Puerto Rican Literature and Film,” which she presented at the University of Michigan’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures in 2009. The Dissertation Committee also awarded an Honorable Mention to anthropologist Adriana Maria Garriga-López’s “Viral Citizens: The Coloniality of HIV/AIDS in Puerto Rico” (Columbia University, 2010). Garriga-López is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at Kalamazoo College.
It bears mention here that PRSA also awarded six travel grants to graduate students presenting papers at the conference. President Gladys M. Jiménez-Muñoz and Vice-President/President-Elect Roberto Márquez constituted the ad hoc travel grants committee. Fourteen graduate students submitted applications for these grants. With two or more worthy applicants competing for each available grant, the process of choosing among them was very difficult. The awardees finally chosen were:
- Erika Gisela Abad Merced (Washington State University);
- Manuel Avilés-Santiago (University of Austin-Texas; did not attend the conference);
- Miluska Martinez Sarson (Universidad de Puerto Rico);
- Juan C. López (University of Austin-Texas);
- Julio Raúl Firpo (University of Central Florida);
- Marisol Lebrón (New York University)
The Friday evening events concluded with a reception, which was also well attended.
Overall. If the day seemed to be a bit packed with perhaps too many activities, the general feedback was nonetheless positive.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
The local planning committee also organized a series of activities in the Wadsworth Athenaeum. Participation was uneven, but the events were well received.
Film Series. The coordinated series of public film showings throughout the day were poorly attended. Four films were shown throughout the day, free of charge. The main goal of this event was to create a public environment where members of the local communities could enjoy some of the events associated with the PRSA conference.
Closing Reception. The closing reception, held at the Wadsworth Athenaeum, featured a reading by noted Puerto Rican poet Tato Laviera, dinner and music. It was very well attended and the only challenge we faced was the inability to continue to party until late in the night. This event effectively closed the conference on a positive note.
PRSA received funds and in-kind institutional contributions from different organizations and local institutions to help cover conference expenses. However, it was not enough. We need to devise a funding strategy that enables us to collect at least twice as much per conference to cover all expenses. In addition, under the conditions created by the prevailing economic crisis, conference attendance was, comparatively and as initially feared, somewhat lower than usual, and, as a result, we were penalized by Marriott for not filling up the quota of reserved hotel rooms.
The Local Organizing Committee found itself consistently trying to coordinate with the PRSA Secretariat in order to avoid a perennial problem with the PRSA Conferences, namely that local committees in the past have at times organized meetings that are only partially funded. This has left the PRSA with outstanding debts and no source of bailout funding. To that end, I propose that each member of the Executive Council approach his or her home institution and attempt to secure a financial contribution.
Overall we received very positive feedback on the conference. In the eyes of many among its participants, this conference appears to have been successful. Notwithstanding, the following are a few matters that merit consideration in the planning of future conferences:
- In anticipation of the economic challenges that might have afflicted conference participants, this year we eliminated one day from the conference’s usual duration. Eliminating that day limited our ability to offer more activities, a general meeting, and have more time to spread panels out. Cutting a day from our conference is ultimately counterproductive. Except under the most pressing circumstances, we should not do it.
- We confronted a number of challenges over membership dues and conference registration fees charged to local community participants. Many local participants simply cannot afford to pay the membership dues or, for that matter, the conference fees. We need to develop a better policy and waiver system that can better accommodate local community members’ financial circumstances.
- We should strive to have a clear calendar of meetings and procedures for approving planned activities well ahead of time. We similarly need to find a more effective way to make decisions regarding our planned conference structure with sufficient lead-time to print materials and timely fix last minute glitches.
- Coordinating activities in multiple locations proved to be a logistical challenge. We should, in consequence, strive to coordinate all conference activities in one location.
- Finally, we should design a better mechanism to collect feedback and to respond to the needs of conference participants and our membership during the course of a conference. Perhaps we can develop a digital feedback form in our new website, along with a digital system of nominations for the Executive Council and other mechanisms to create a a more structurally effective interchange.
by Charles R. Venator-Santiago
Local Organizing Committee Chair
Institute for Puerto Rican & Latino Studies
University of Connecticut-Storrs