Written by: Deborah Orlowski
I don’t know about you, but to me, October 2020 seems like both yesterday and years ago!
As the 2020 SIETAR USA Conference Chair I would, once again, like to thank everyone who attended, worked on, volunteered at, and participated in this year’s conference. SIETAR conferences are always special. Whatever our jobs, intercultural or DEI, I find we often spend a substantial amount of time explaining what we do. One of the joys of SIETAR is that we are amongst people who understand. I joined SIETAR International in the early 1990s and attended SIETAR conferences around the world, each one a unique homage to the city where it was held. Yet, no matter where we were in the world, the conferences always felt like coming home.
What Energized You About the 2020 SIETAR USA Conference
When I was tasked with chairing this year’s SIETAR USA conference, I wanted to bring that same feeling to our virtual world. In the Conference Planning Team, I found a group of SIETARians who had a similar vision. There are some things that must be done at our conferences: a business meeting, awards presentations, personal and professional networking and of course, increasing our skills. But quite honestly, these aren’t the things that make us, us. In conversation after conversation your conference team reiterated the desire to present an environment that created that sense of being with family. And it seemed to show. In looking at your evaluations, the opportunity to connect was overwhelmingly cited as the best part of the conference. You also appreciated all the work and technical expertise provided by Brett and Karen with a special mention of Sue’s facilitating. It’s traditional for SIETAR USA to have morning wellness sessions and your evaluations showed an appreciation for continuing that. Remo was generally well-received. It appeared the biggest complaint about Remo was that not enough people were there. We can provide it, but it’s up to you to use it! Brett demonstrated yet another talent as the new unofficial SIETAR USA DJ at our closing Zoom party which rocked, so much so that it was mentioned several times as a conference highlight.
Where We Could Have Done Better
Of course, being our first virtual conference, we didn’t hit the mark every time. The most frequent criticism was the conference was too long or it was over a weekend. The conference team discussed numerous variations of timing: Why not periodic events and sessions over a month? Let’s make it 2 days on a weekend. Let’s make sure we don’t have it on a weekend. To reach a world-wide audience hold everything in late afternoon. No, make it early morning. How about late at night? We imagined them all. We reasoned in a virtual setting it was easy to jump in and out of the conference, giving attendees flexibility. We wanted to make it accessible across the world and accessible for people who might not be able to leave work during the week.
POS and Whiteness Sessions
There were both kudos and concerns for the sessions dedicated to Practitioners of Color (POC) and to discussing Whiteness and Dismantling Racism. For the last several years, our conference has given time and opportunity for all Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) to gather in a “safe” space to discuss their unique issues and strategies. This year, amid the murders by police and protests for social justice and police reform, it felt particularly important to provide this. Making the session “closed” was a request of the POC planning group and it was one we gladly granted. Reports from attendees of those sessions were positive. By the same token, many of us who identify as White have difficulty understanding why this “segregation” happens, especially in a group like SIETAR that is “not exclusive” (as one evaluation stated). It’s for this reason, as well as a deep desire to understand how being White supports both the continuation and disruption of racism, that the session on Whiteness and Dismantling Racism was developed. Both the POC and Whiteness sessions were seen by their designers as critical first steps that SIETAR USA needs to take in order to do our work within our organization and our own practices.
Next Year In Omaha
Finally, SIETARians always come with great ideas. We are assuming that our conference next year will be in-person in Omaha, Nebraska. However, because this year’s virtual conference was so successful (my very biased opinion of your evaluations), a substantial number of you not only wanted us to continue through this upcoming year with virtual workshops, meetings, and networking, but recommended next year’s conference be blended with both virtual and in-person offerings. Many people mentioned that a virtual format allowed easy access to the conference, especially if one lived a great distance away. You mentioned wanting performances and presentations from around the world that would add to the overall Omaha experience, as they did to this year’s virtual conference and there were mentions of bringing back the Whiteness and POC sessions. Keep those great ideas coming and remember, it’s not too early to volunteer to be on the 2021 SIETAR USA Conference Planning Team to bring your creativity to fruition in Omaha!
Although I have one son who claims that in “COVID Times” time no longer exists…there is only yesterday, today, and tomorrow…we know that’s not true. It may feel like the 2020 Conference both just ended and was years ago but we understand that time is a steady march. Soon it will be the holiday season here in the US and then the New Year and 2021. I sincerely hope that the 2020 SIETAR USA conference brought you new skills, new friends and colleagues, new energy and most of all, renewed joy. Thank you for your support, friendships, and love during this conference process. Time may be mutable these days, but my admiration for all of you and the amazing work you do is not. May this new year bring you health, stability, joy, and peace. And so, as my last act as Chair of the 2020 SIETAR USA conference, I bid you farewell. See you Next Year In Omaha!