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Willamette University professor Emily Drew will present on 'Power, Privilege and Racial Diversity in Oregon' Feb. 17

SUBMITTED PHOTO - The first 'Conversation Projects' lecture hosted by the West Linn Alliance for Inclusive Community took place last October and was a surprising success. The lecture series returns Feb. 17.Last October, as the nascent West Linn Alliance for Inclusive Community (WLAIC) prepared to host a lecture called "What's In a Label?" by Ann Su at the West Linn Public Library, group member Lonnie Shumaker gazed outside with a mixture of wonder and dread.

It was 70 degrees on a Saturday — a welcome surprise for fall in Oregon, but also a sure sign that people would be anywhere but the library that day.

Or so she thought.

As it turned out, nearly 50 people showed up for the lecture — the first hosted by WLAIC as part of a statewide "Conversation Projects" initiative sponsored by Oregon Humanities. Far from dealing with the disappointment of an empty room, volunteers instead had to scrounge for more chairs to accommodate a standing-room-only crowd.

"I was pleased. I was pumped," Shumaker said.

And "What's next?" was the comment Shumaker and other WLAIC members heard most frequently after the lecture. With that in mind, the group is set to hold its second Conversation Projects lecture Feb. 17, this time welcoming Willamette University professor Emily Drew and a presentation called "Power, Privilege and Racial Diversity in Oregon." The free lecture is set to run from 2-4 p.m. at the West Linn Library.

The lecture will address the perception of Oregon as "one of the whitest states in the nation" and the systems in place that act to divide rather than unite. It's a theme that dovetails with WLAIC's overarching mission of combating racism and intolerance.

"Our goal is just to get a conversation going, have people talk about what's going on — what do people see?" Shumaker said. "We're hoping people of color come forward and talk about their experiences here and how they're treated. It takes a village to create a community, and we want to create a more inclusive and open community."

Drew is an associate professor of sociology at Willamette University and teaches courses on everything from racism to urban sociology, mass media and social change. Like Su, she was recommended to the WLAIC through Conversation Projects.

"You apply (with Oregon Humanities) for a Conversation Project and if you are granted they send you a whole list of (potential) conversations," Shumaker said. "We have another one planned in April already."

That next lecture is set for April 10, again at the West Linn Library. According to Shumaker, Oregon Department of Justice Legislative Director Aaron Knott will talk about hate crimes and how the legal system deals with them.

And if the success of the first event was any indication, WLAIC members might need to pack in a few more chairs.

"Lots of people want to talk about what's going on and how they fit — what they can do better and what they can do the same," Shumaker said. "There's a lot going on across the country that people feel the need to process and figure out."

Learn more at westlinnalliance.org.

West Linn Tidings reporter Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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