Instead of taking the day off and contemplating in isolation our call, we choose to gather as a community to collectively reflect on the legacy of Rev. King and the work still left for us to do. In addition to a compelling convocation speaker, we believe it is vital to engage in targeted discussions around key issues and our focus sessions allow us to do just that, creating space for Rev. King’s prophetic work to give life and guidance to fulfilling the dream today.

We have four focus session tracks this year: Race, Labor, Environment and Violence. Anchored by a talk delivered by regional expert, each track also includes presentations from Valparaiso University faculty and students as well as members of the wider Valparaiso community.

Focus Session: Race

“Teaching in the ‘Hood” with Elly Walsh-Rock

A middle school teacher’s reflection on how a degree in education was really a degree in suburban education. Reaching students with issues traditionally found in an urban demographic is immensely different and diversity workshops only go so far in facilitating understanding. Through the stories of four students the audience will see how necessary it is to have teachers in urban schools who are prepared and why we need to be talking about education in a different way.

“Listen Up!” Art Piece and Presentation with Willow Walsh, Liz Wuerffel and Allison Schuette

Stories shape our imagination and help us to empathize with others. Using Welcome Project stories (including “White Privilege” and “Culture Shock”) to connect the audience with a lived experience of someone different than themselves. First person stories such as these illuminate the complexity of our own perceptions and how we are perceived by others. They provide us with the opportunity to challenge our preconceptions and recognize the value of the variety of voices, but they can also reinforce deeply held (sometimes polarized) positions. We’ll address all of these issues and more in our presentation.

“White Racist to White Ally: The Choice and the Challenge” with Stewart Cooper

The majority of persons of good will believe they are more nonracist and antiracist than they actually are, and this lack of self-awareness is a major barrier to our society being able to make further significant progress. This program will provide participants a framework for four possible stances about racial differences in privilege and power and emphasize the need to engage in active ongoing efforts to make change.

Featured Presentation: “What Race Matters in Northwest Indiana”

The race of individuals in Northwest Indiana can determine how resources are allocated, how employment opportunities are available or not available and how people are valued or undervalued in certain communities.

with Rev. John Jackson, Founder and Senior Pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ – Gary

Focus Session: Labor

“Why Taking Action Matters” with Luke Sullivan from Arise Chicago

Arise Chicago partners with immigrants and leaders from the religious, government, legal, labor, and academic communities to end workplace abuse. Arise Chicago has passed City and County Ordinances to prevent wage theft, helping Chicago to become a city where business ethics and families can thrive.

“Fair Trade Education” with Tom Goyne

The fundamental motivation for this initiative is for Valparaiso University to model the ethical behavior we hope to instill in our alumni, once they find themselves in supervisory roles. This session will begin with a short clip from the documentary, “The Philosopher Kings,” which looks at the workplace experiences of housekeeping staff at a number of prestigious US universities, followed by Goyne’s case for Fair Trade Education.

“The Injustice IN our Backyard” with students from L.I.V.E.

Gary, IN was one of the first municipalities in Northwest Indiana to become a “welcoming city,” providing some protection for non-citizens living in Gary. In the heart of city, however, the Gary/Chicago International Airport is doing the opposite. Likewise, the city of Hobart faces the possibility of a private corporation detaining people. How would the actions a private business affect the people of Hobart and other near by cities/towns? How would this intensify the act of racial profiling, especially in a diverse city like Gary?

Presentation from UNITE HERE Casino Workers

UNITE HERE is the largest union of gaming workers in the world, representing 100,000 casino workers across the United States and Canada. This presentation will be led by UNITE HERE member, Jeri Elliott, who works as a housekeeper at Majestic Star Casino in Gary. She is an elected member of the Local 1 executive board, shop steward, bargaining committee member, lifelong Gary resident and parent of a Valpo alum.

Featured Presentation: “Dangerous Unselfishness: Victories and Lessons Learned from Organizing Hospitality Workers in Chicago and Northwest Indiana”

After a brief introduction to unions and labor organizing, Dan will draw lessons from Local 1’s campaigns in the region to unionize hospitality workers, fight against workplace sexual harassment, and for immigrant rights. Using colorful campaign and organizing stories, Dan will share Local 1’s vision for success. He will lay out how unions are not only resisting Trumpism, but winning, and helping us grow closer to Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community.

with Dan Miller, Organizing Director at Unite Here

Focus Session: Environment

“Toxic Tour” with Thomas Frank

A case study on what is at stake in conversations about environmental justice, East Chicago is a city that throughout the 20th century claimed to be “the workshop of America,” and the most industrial city in the world. It is a place where the largest private investment in Indiana’s history was recently made and where 1,200 residents recently found themselves environmental refugees — the third time in two decades for the small city founded on the dunes of the southern shores of Lake Michigan. The “tour” features a mix of data and personal experiences of living in this community and the shifting of cultural metaphors shaping its transition to a livable community.

“Using Chemistry to Address the Health Concerns of a Local Community” with Valparaiso University professors, students and Valparaiso community members

The former U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery Inc. (USS Lead), a 79 acre area in the city of East Chicago, IN is a US EPA Superfund site and home to approximately 2,400 residents. The Superfund site lies within the floodplain zone of the Calumet River and is surrounded by a number of other industries. The Superfund clean-up of contaminated soil has been underway for over a year, but residents have legitimate concerns about lead, arsenic and additional contaminants exposures. Due to the multitude of pollution sources from the industrial sites in East Chicago, a full account of the contaminants present indoors and outdoors is required to help residents understand their contaminant exposures. Drs. Iceman and Peller (VU Department of Chemistry) have been working with Sam Henderson of the Hoosier Environmental Council and residents of the Superfund site for the past year. Hear about their work and the results from more than 50 samples (soil, dust, dirt, paint, water,) that have been analyzed for lead, arsenic, and other metals.   

“Working towards Food Justice” with Andrew Raridon

An assistant professor in VU’s Sociology and Criminology Department, Raridon will talk about the racial roots of contemporary food insecurity, focusing on the connections between structural (institutionalized) racism and current disparities in food access. He will also look at the ways the food movement is working to address structural racism in the food system as well as discuss “food justice” and how attention to the power dynamics in social movements is essential to achieving it.

Featured Presentation: “All the -Isms: The Interconnections Between Social Justice Activism in Northwest Indiana”

As a native of East Chicago, IN, Lorrell sees the fight for environmental justice as a literal life and death struggle. She continues to experience the interconnections among environmental justice, racial and social class liberation, gender equality, and accessibility. She believes that seeing and addressing these struggles as linked is imperative for achieving any measure of victory for those most affected by systemic abuses. She will address her experiences in these struggles and how they have come to converge, both in her activism and in issues currently facing Northwest Indiana.


with Lorrell Kilpatrick, co-organizer of Black Lives Matter of Northwest Indiana

Focus Session: Violence

“#MeToo” with Chyanne Holth and Brittany Weis of the Athena Society

This hashtag is a simple, yet powerful statement that a man or woman can share to speak out that they have been a victim of sexual violence, in order to show how common sexual violence is. This presentation looks at how the #MeToo campaign started and how much awareness it has elicited. The audience will learn about how broad the term “sexual assault” can be and will include the reading of anonymous stories from women and men on campus who have used the #MeToo on social media. It will conclude with campus resources victims of sexual violence can utilize and education around what consent really is.

“Truth Telling Towards Justice” with the Chicago Torture Justice Center

This session will discuss the role that force and fraud play in supporting systems of oppression and in allowing the systematic torture of hundreds of people under Chicago Police Department Commander Jon Burge. Gregory Banks, a survivor of Burge’s tenure, will share his story and the power of truth telling towards justice and healing. We will talk about the many shapes that truth telling can take and ask participants to think about the lies or narratives they  have been told or surrounded with that lead to or enable police violence to happen so regularly in our communities.

“I.Am.Traumatized.” Art piece by Bayan Fares

A poem that explores the enduring affects that Islamophobia has on a person and the tole it takes on the body and mind. Through rhyming and connecting words with similar rhythmic sounds, this poem will offer the audience insight into the daily experience of a Muslim person.

“Violence Against the Transgender Community” with students from Alliance

Members of Alliance’s executive board will be discussing how violence against the transgender community affects the community as a whole, where it comes from, and how to combat it when you see it. They examine how this violence affects trans individuals’ daily lives as well as how it is seen by those outside of the community. A mix of data and personal experiences with violence will inform the discussion on how we can confront this epidemic on and off Valpo’s campus.

Featured Presentation: “Gender Based Violence is a Human Rights Issue”

This talk will focus on how Apna Ghar, Inc. (Our Home), has developed a service model that incorporates the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner framework into its work with immigrant and refugee survivors of gender based violence in the metro Chicago area (including parts of Indiana). Apna Ghar provides holistic services, conducts outreach and advocacy to end gender violence. She will discuss the agency’s impact in creating change in the lives of individual survivors as well on the community, institutions and policies in our area.


with Neha Gill, Executive Director of Apna Ghar, Inc.

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