Student Journeys

Reflection on the Fifth DEN International Student Conference – “Power and Contestations in Global Worlds: Identities, Conflicts, and Developmental Challenges”

The 12th and 13th of May this year went by quicker than I had anticipated. By a lucky chance I found myself in London, where I had been given an extraordinary opportunity to partake in two stand-alone, yet interconnected events – “Towards an Anti-Racist University” conference and the Fifth DEN International Student Conference, both taking place at the University of Westminster School of Social Sciences.

What made it a lucky chance, one might wonder? To dig a little deeper, my participation in these events was a mixture of both luck and, well, the welcoming nature of my now-colleagues at the Democratic Education Network. I myself am a political science student at the University of Latvia – a faraway land in the Baltic Sea region. It just so happened I had a chance to attend a DEN meeting back in February when visiting my friend here. I was truly taken aback by the democratic nature of the Democratic Education Network (as the name would suggest). I was received kindly by Prof. Farhang Morady and the rest of the students actively involved and I was offered a chance to pay a return visit to London for the conference in May. I must say, from the perspective of a foreigner, this has been a very warm welcome and, indeed, a worthwhile experience of academic learning and youth empowerment, which has far exceeded my initial expectations bringing an overall surprising turn in my life.

Owing to these factors, I was able to appreciate the two conferences on an entirely different level. On the first day – the 12th of May – a truly diverse selection of speakers addressed issues fundamental to democracy such as equality, leadership and inclusion. The topics ranged from overall perceptions of racism in higher education to anti-racist tools and solutions available for students and academic staff. What caught my attention was the fact that these discussions were oriented not just toward the implementation of non-racism in education but rather focused on how to combat racism as such.

On the second day – the 13th of May – the international student conference took place, with an emphasis on student research topics covering a wide array of academic and social matters, including international security, geopolitics, governance, women’s rights, power polarity and many, many more. Each larger theme was presented by the panellists, who each gave a brief presentation on their topic and findings. It was inspiring to see novel concepts proposed by the students, contributing to academic debates in their respective fields. Perhaps the only thing lacking in the overall process was more chance for the presenters to discuss their findings among themselves and with the audience, to make each theme even more engaging. Other than that, it was quite an honour to listen to so many bright young people talk about issues and ideas they find interesting, as well as to have the opportunity to present my own article on the separation of the Church and the State.

I hope to see more events like this taking place in the future, and it is definitely a practice I am eager to bring back to my home university. See you next year, DEN!

Arturs Danga is a second-year student of Political science at the University of Latvia.

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