Illustration by Cole Sandhofer
For the first time, Western is hosting the 15th Annual Western Regional Global Health Conference. This year’s theme is criminalization of the body, exploring how policing and oppression affects marginalized communities and health outcomes.
In the past, the conference has been held at the University of Washington and other universities on the West Coast, but never at Western, according to student conference organizers Maya Wieland and Josette Wicker. They helped organize the event with a group of about 25 students.
“It’s kind of a big deal because every university that usually hosts it has a community health master’s program.” Wicker said.
Both Wieland and Wicker said they got involved with the conference last year. Western faculty had started some planning for the event, but needed students to step in. They secured funding and support from a variety of places.
“We have faculty from all over helping us,” Wieland said.
Conference attendees will hear from a variety of activists, professors and students. The event is one of the largest student-led global health conferences in the nation, according to the website.
Wicker emphasized the importance of being aware of the mindset and views students from western nations bring to study abroad trips. Wicker said she likes a “cultural exchange” approach to study abroad and global health initiatives. Many of the conference speakers and panels will focus on areas and issues outside the U.S.
“We don’t want it to be ‘Criminalization of the Body; a Western Perspective,’” Wicker said.
Wieland said she and the student leadership team hope to have 300 students in attendance this year. The event begins Friday, April 26 at 6 p.m. in Academic Instructional Center West and will last through Sunday. The cost is $35 for students, but some scholarships have been made available according to an email sent out to Western students. Additionally, walk-up registration will be available from 3-6 p.m. on April 26, said Wieland.
In addition to the weekend-long conference in Academic West, there will also be an art and sculptures exhibition in the B Gallery, located in the Fine Arts Building. Over 20 pieces will be on display, created by both Western students and community members.
Keynote speaker Festus Ibanda Kisa, an advocate for reproductive rights, sexual and gender minorities, will travel from Kenya for the conference. Kisa’s attendance was made possible by the University of Washington, who put $5,000 toward having the speaker be present, Wicker said.
Kisa works with Q-Initiative Eldoret to build relationships with government and civil institutions in Kenya. Wicker said she met Kisa on a study abroad trip last year, along with other lawyers and advocates for LGBTQ+ issues.
Raine Dozier, Michael Wolff, Tim Costello and Yeon Jung Yu are among the Western faculty who will be speaking at the conference. Dozier, the chair of health and community studies at Western, will discuss her findings on legislation and healthcare topics that affect trans people internationally. Dozier worries that legislation protecting transgender people can create a “centralizing body” that takes self-determination away.
“[Saying] you can’t discriminate against transgender people has also opened the door to people deciding who is ‘trans enough,’” Dozier said.
Dozier’s address, titled “Policing Gender: Access and Obstacles for Transgender Individuals in Ecuador, India, Thailand, and the U.S.,” begins Saturday, April 27 at 10:30 a.m.
The organizers will also be creating safe spaces for different groups at the conference.
“We’ll have racial caucusing and safe spaces. And we’ll have separate spaces for LGBTQ+ and students of color,” Wicker said.