The New Work New Culture Conference in Detroit banded radical activists, academics, and “solutionaries” from around the world this past weekend. A group of 13 Kalamazoo College students attended the conference to learn about redefining the relationship with work.
The conference’s themes focused on a post-industrial society, and how a capitalist economic system dehumanizes, isolates and exploits people. “We can look at crisis as both a danger and an opportunity,” conference organizer Tawana Petty said, quoting Grace Lee Boggs.
The conference was deliberately set in Detroit, and while there, the students observed examples of sustainable community production such as urban gardening. Conference-goers uplifted the importance of shifting culture from being thing-oriented to human and earth-oriented.
Olivia Gaines ’18 said the conference “gave me a vision for what work can look like. It was not something that you can necessarily take a class on. There’s a reason that it was in a space outside of K.”
Several K alumni attended the conference, including former visiting professor and 2012 Arcus fellow Matt Birkhold who presented as a panelist. Many of those at the conference were former students of Birkhold, and they were able to reconnect with him and reflect on the impact of his class.
The programs included panels and small group discussions, as well as meals and new work practices such as a swap market. They all emphasized the importance of open dialogue, supporting people who are already applying these practices, and forming meaningful relationships with those around us.
The culture of the conference was atypical, because it prioritized interaction and relationships throughout the weekend. The structure of it allowed for celebrating voices and experiences from different educational and professional backgrounds.
After these students returned, they wish to continue these dialogues and apply what they learned to K’s culture. Stay tuned for an informational speak-out, and potential alternative economy spaces on campus!