This weekend my spouse and I had the pleasure to attend A Celebration of Star Trek at DePaul University in Chicago. This was a one day free conference, open to the public, and hosted in the downtown (Loop) campus of DePaul, right in the center of Chicago. Specifically, this conference was hosted by the Media and Cinema Studies program at DePaul. DePaul University is the largest Catholic University in the United States.
The event itself included a full day of speakers and panels, as well as lots of showings of episodes from the various Trek shows. There were also several vendors, a silent auction that benefited ChimpHaven, and a book sale at the Barnes and Noble store within the same building. I attended one Klingon history lecture, two panels, and two show screenings. I would have stayed longer, but I wasn’t feeling well and had to head home early.
There was a lot this event did very well. The harassment policy was complete, and easy to find on the website, event program, and a sign in near the registration table. I was also impressed with the gender balance of the speakers. By my count (and doing some guessing in a few cases as to how people identify) there were 20 women, 16 men, and one nonbinary person speaking either individually or on panels. I would have liked to see a bit more racial diversity in the overall speakers list, but it was more racially diverse than your average Federation crew.
The topics covered included some basic fun lore classes, such as two Klingon history classes and two on the Klingon language. I enjoyed the one Klingon history class I went to, and was particularly impressed with some of the costumes present in that room. There were also discussions on politics, philosophy, science and technology, and issues related to the fandom. Although I didn’t get to attend these, they all sounded like really interesting discussions. We DID attend two of the social justice related panels, one called “Star Trek and Gender” which included a variety of really interesting insights into the roles of women throughout the series’, the meaning of platonic male friendships in Trek, and more. I also attended “Debating the Future: Otherness and Privilege in Star Trek” which was hosted by Jennifer Cross, who is a major force in the Chicago Skeptics group and overall cool person. This panel was excellent and resulted in great discussion on the #TrekPrivilege hashtag.
Spouse and I also watched “More Tribbles, More Troubles” from The Animated Series, which was quite funny, and “Cause and Effect” from The Next Generation, which is Star Trek horror at it’s finest. When TNG wanted to do creepy they did it REALLY well.
We did look at the vendors but didn’t end up buying anything this time around. I was tempted by the person selling tribbles, but I know what happens when you take one of those home so I resisted.
There are just a few things I think they could do better for future events. From an accessibility perspective, some improvements could be made. For example, the website did not contain any accessibility information, which is always a good (and inexpensive!) thing for an event like this to offer – just letting people know what barriers they might encounter and what your event is doing to try to make the event accessible is really helpful. Also, The hallways at the Loop campus buildings are large enough for a wheelchair to get through normally, but with vendor tables in the hallways it would have been very difficult to navigate the halls with any mobility device, and if a way could be found to avoid this (such as using a different building or floor) it would help make the event more accessible.
The classrooms being used each held approximately 30 seats, but I consistently found that the number of people attending talks and panels was larger than this. All three of the talks I went to had people sitting and standing in the aisle on the floor. More chairs, like folding chairs, would have fit in these rooms, so it would be great for this event to bring in extra chairs, OR try to use a different building or floor on campus with larger classrooms. However, everyone did ultimately fit in the rooms, and as far as I know everyone managed to see the talks they intended to see, so it was not an enormous problem.
Finally, the floor the event was on had only male and female bathrooms, but the building does have a gender neutral bathroom on the first floor. It would have been a good idea to include a sign telling people this near the gendered bathrooms, or a comment in the program, in order to make the event more welcoming of trans and nonbinary attendees, as well as any J’naii at the conference.
Overall, this event was extremely well done and fun time for it’s size. The fact that this event was free and open to the public is of course highly attractive to many people. While a 9 hour event may not be big enough to draw people from much of a distance, it definitely brought in a good attendance from within Chicago, both within DePaul University and the rest of nerdy Chicago. The location was easy to get to on public transit, and had innumerable other things to do nearby. It’s worth keeping an eye on the Media and Cinema Studies program for other fun events like this in the future. I certainly will be.