April, as most of the people in my office are painfully aware, is sexual assault awareness month. Though it’s wonderful that there is a concentrated month of programming surrounding response to and prevention of sexual violence, for those working on campuses, it’s an inconvenient time of year. Most semesters end in May, meaning that in April students (myself included) are busy with midterms or are gearing up towards finals. Even if students aren’t busy, it’s hard to encourage people to get involved with the issue when they’re only a month out from summer break.
This is part of why, at my university, we do Take Back the Night in October or November. It serves as a good gearing-up activity going in to winter break, and helps us pull in freshmen who have by that point found their footing on campus.
However, this doesn’t mean that April is an empty month for my office. In fact, I’m helping to organize a regional conference (the first annual!) on sexual violence work and campuses, with a focus on Georgia institutions. The underlying principle is one of intersectionality. We’re hoping to brink people together to talk about sexual violence in a social justice context (which, given the social justice work of most universities, is facilitated by being on a campus).
This means that over the last few months, I’ve learned a lot about what needs to be considered when getting a conference off the ground. This is likely the first of several entries cataloging the process of getting people to campus in April.
Start early: The idea that became this conference was first mentioned to me by my boss at the beginning of last semester (in August). Particularly when you’re looking at starting a brand-new event, there is a lot of ground work to be laid. This goes doubly if you’re looking to get institutional funding. That process, more than anything, has taken time. If my office had started looking at funding now, we would have waited too long to hear back about a budget to plan anything.
Talk to your conferences department: If you’re at a university, you likely have a conferences department that manages on-campus events during the school year and summer camps during breaks. They are your allies. My boss and I came to them with the idea for a conference in April. They in turn suggested locations on campus, told us about the process for getting the conference catered, and mentioned the logistical things (name tags, on-campus maps) that we would need. It took them 20 minutes to tell us everything we needed to know.
Work backwards: Filling an entire day’s worth of speakers seemed like a really daunting task when I first was assigned it. Then I sat down and came up with a skeleton schedule: opening remarks, keynote speaker, breakout sessions, lunch, breakout sessions, closing remarks. This schedule minimizes the number of rooms we need, keeps everyone out of the room when we need to set up/break down lunch, and makes it clear how many speakers we need. At this point, it’s just a matter of soliciting speakers and then slotting them into that schedule.
These are the things I have learned in the past few months. Now that we have a budget, we just (“just”) have to recruit speakers and attendees. I’m sure this will present its own unique set of challenges, but I am optimistic. If nothing else, I have learned that it is in fact totally possible to put together a conference. It just takes teamwork and coordination, and a lot of patience.