Bates hosts major conference on Lewiston-Auburn diversity

Well-known Maine politicians, officials from the public and private sectors, and local Somali residents will join educators and students at Bates College in March for the conference “Toward Harmony: A New Diversity in Lewiston-Auburn.”

Presenters at the conference will explore the influx of Somalis to the area from myriad angles – including impacts on schools and social services, the historic view of immigration and the hate-crime phenomenon. Presenters include Maine Gov. John Baldacci, U.S. Reps. Tom Allen and Mike Michaud, Stephen Wessler of the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence and Heather Lindkvist, an anthropologist at Bates who has worked with the local Somali community for a year and a half.

The conference begins in Bates’ Chase Hall at 3 p.m. Friday, March 14, and in Carnegie Science Hall at 8 a.m. Saturday, March 15. Registration is essential, with a $5 donation the suggested fee. Please call 207-786-8204 for a full schedule and other information.

A visiting lecturer in religion at Bates, Mishael Caspi is the lead organizer of the conference. He started planning it last May after he spotted graffiti directed against the Somali community, and followed up by getting in touch with young members of that community.

“These people aren’t taking money,” says Caspi. “They’re trying to establish themselves as good citizens. Lo and behold, here we are, a country of immigrants and we are now targeting the newcomers as parasites. That really angers me.”

Friday’s portion of the conference includes a forum on diversity in schools, welcoming comments from Baldacci and the congressmen, Wessler’s keynote address, and presentations of Somali poetry and a folk tale. An evening buffet follows.

Moderated by faculty from Bates and the University of Southern Maine, Saturday morning’s panels bring historical perspectives to issues of immigration and exile, and examine the nature of religious harmony. Topics of the afternoon breakout sessions include the impacts of immigration on the social service system, the private sector and schools.

The conference ends with the panel “Honoring Culture in a New Home,” moderated by anthropologist Lindkvist, followed by performances of African folk music and Somali dance, and a Somali community supper.

Registrants may attend either day or both. For educators, the conference is good for three credits toward recertification.

The event is co-chaired by Caspi and two colleagues in the philosophy and religion department, Professor Robert Allison and Associate Professor Marcus Bruce. The event is supported by a major grant from the Maine Humanities Council and generous gifts from the newspapers Sun Journal and Sunday; the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College; the city of Lewiston; and a variety of funds and offices at Bates.

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