MPPM student Katie Tomer attended a conference on "Othering and Belonging" as a representative of USM. The conference's focus was on bringing people together from all different backgrounds, ages, genders, immigration status, socioeconomic status, etc to expand the circle of human concern. During the conference, attendees developed strategies to remove barriers and build bridges for community connectedness in order to create a sense of belongingness and inspire community members to be more active in their roles as citizens. Strategies include increased involvement in sustainability practices, voting, community improvements, reduced rates of incarceration, uplifting the voices of individuals with less financial resources, etc.
Katie reflected on her experience at the conference:
"The 'Othering and Belonging' Conference was well worth the trip and I am grateful for the Haas Institute Scholarship as well as for the support from the Muskie Justice Policy Program team to be able to attend. Conference speakers shared their research examining current global political and social phenomena and how they closely interact with the United States’ political and economic systems. The conference highlighted how to build and sustain a society that is diverse and inclusive so that all people are welcomed regardless of race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, etc. This model was referred to as ‘bridging’ and was presented with the intent to form a social compact that is based on belonging. With a social compact based on belonging, group-based difference and forms of identity are ‘not dehumanized or subsumed’ but instead they are celebrated. This conference not only encouraged participants to be active participants in our political, economic, and cultural lives, but urged us all to take action when boundaries have been breached. Speakers focused on identifying and eliminating the barriers to an inclusive, just, and sustainable society with equitable inclusion as a focus. As a participant, I walked away with increased knowledge and awareness of models, tools, and strategies to operationalize belonging. Those in attendance who I was able to connect with were scholars, organizers, communicators, and policymakers from around the globe. It was a valuable opportunity to deepen my thinking on defining justice globally and in Maine as well as how to implement strategies that build belonging and bridge to a more just world."