Understanding Desire a huge success  

The discussions were dynamic and enlightening. The audiences were young, old and everything in between. The response? Overwhelming.

By all accounts, the inaugural President’s Conference: Understanding Desire on April 6 was a resounding success, surpassing the expectations of all involved.

All three sessions of the daylong conference were essentially filled to capacity with participants from inside and outside the Concordia community. The morning session in the DeSčve Cinema, Brain and Reward: Appetite, Anticipation and Drug Addiction, welcomed nearly 200; the afternoon session, The Addictive Network, jammed more than 400 into a standing-room-only D.B. Clarke Theatre; and the evening’s Self, Sexuality and Desire received nearly 350 in D.B. Clarke.

“It’s apparent now these discussions resonate with what’s happening in the world today and truly appeal to a diverse range of people,” says Vice-Provost of Teaching and Learning Ollivier Dyens, who also served as the conference’s Chair.

The afternoon session, touching on the addictive nature of technology, was particularly lively. Researchers Bill Bukowski and Bart Simon welcomed students from Trafalgar School for Girls, Centennial Regional High School, Marianopolis and Concordia. Teachers and guidance counsellors from other schools including Loyola High School, Centennial Academy, Dawson, Vanier and John Abbott were also in attendance. As well, students from Laurier MacDonald, and St. Michael’s High School (in Low, Quebec) were among those across the province who participated via webcast.

“When we were developing the idea, we said, ‘let’s put forth some of our best and brightest.’ We knew much of the work the presenters were doing have significant relevance not only in academia, but also beyond the labs and classes,” says Dyens. “It was about thinking about schoolwork in a different way.”

To bring a fresh dynamic to the afternoon, Degrassi: The Next Generation star and Concordia communications student Sarah Barrable-Tishauer helped moderate the questions. As well, graduate student Felicia Meyer delivered a portion of Bukowski’s presentation.

“The point was to reach out and connect with communities, near and far,” says Dyens. “I think that’s one of the major responsibilities of a university.”

And reaching out was not restricted to those able to attend. Focusing strongly on social connectivity, all three sessions were webcast to other high schools and labs around Concordia and across the province. (Watch every session at www.concordia.ca/presidentsconferences.)

Those watching the webcast participated by emailing questions. Throughout the day’s events, questions from viewers were entered into the discussion and answered by presenters.

“In traditional conferences, we usually only get the chance to talk to colleagues involved in similar work. This really gave us an opportunity to talk to the public and colleagues from other departments,” says Shimon Amir, a featured presenter in the morning session. “I thought it was great and different experience and I’d like to see more of these public events that translate what we do into accessible information.”

In addition, the American public broadcaster PBS branch from Mountain Lake, N.Y. interviewed Simon and Bukowski in regards to their contribution to analyzing the Addictive Network. The material will be part of a program examining the subject, tentatively to be aired May 27 (**see update below). PBS Mountain Lake is also exploring the possibility of making the program available to other PBS stations across the U.S.

Organizers have been buoyed by the exceptional outcome of this year’s conference and intend to carry the momentum into the next edition, Security, Surveillance and Human Rights, tentatively scheduled for November 2009. They’ll be looking to build increased direct involvement from more high schools from Montreal and beyond, from within the Concordia community, including undergrad and grad students.

“This conference simply went so well, it’s almost a daunting task to improve for the next conference,” Dyens says. “But it’s a genuinely exciting endeavour we’re truly looking forward to.”

** UPDATE: See the clip that was played repeatedly on Mountain Lake PBS over the weekend of May 22 on the News and Events site. PBS intends to broadcast an in-depth special on Mountain Lake Journal later this summer. (Updated June 5, 2009.)


Concordia University