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Morgan Jamie Dunbar: “Persons near and as far away as Korea, Czech Republic, Mexico, Austria and Australia came together for a weekend of enlightenment and sharing”

March 28, 2012 by · 2 comments

The epicenter of the global animal liberation and rights dialogue this year was at Canisius College, Buffalo, where the eleventh Annual North American Conference for Critical Animal Studies took place between March 2nd and 4th.

Three stimulating days of presentations, workshops, stalls and exhibitions brought together activists, scholars, students and community members from several continents with a lively exchange of experiences and insights for a better world. One of the organizers, Morgan Jamie Dunbar (Director, Animal Allies of WNY; President, Animal Allies Club of Canisius College), talks about the conference.

Morgan Jamie Dunbar
Photo: Anthony J. Nocella II

What impact do you think the conference will have on the way people think about animal liberation and activism, both on a global level and among the Canisius community?

What impressed me most about the conference was the striking contrast of participants and presenters. For example, there were scholars, academics and philosophers presenting right alongside seasoned activists, community organizers and revolutionaries. One of the most remarkable conference participants was a local man, John Walker, who described his experience as a 16-year-old child living in Buffalo, being arrested, convicted and serving 16 years in Attica Prison for a murder he did not commit (

John Walker
Photo: John Walker (front row, red shirt) discusses “Justice Delayed: A Firsthand Account of How the ‘Injustice System’ Works.”

This is just one example of how this conference was not just an “animal rights” conference, but an “animal liberation” conference, making the connection between all struggles, whether they originate from our oppressive and racist criminal justice system, our repressive and desensitizing education system or our nation’s devotion to the exploitative capitalist regime. Many of the books, films and literature referenced at the conference are available at Burning Books (420 Connecticut Street, Buffalo, NY,

The Philosophy Department at Canisius was very welcoming to the Institute for Critical Animal Studies (ICAS) and went above and beyond to support this conference. There is no doubt in my mind that everyone in attendance went away feeling empowered and supported by the network of dedicated and impassioned individuals who presented and participated in the conference. Persons near and as far away as Korea, Czech Republic, Mexico, Austria and Australia came together for a weekend of enlightenment and sharing, all geared towards furthering and unifying liberation movements and progressing academic thought concerning all social justice struggles.

Sinem-Vegan Ketenci presents
Photo: Sinem-Vegan Ketenci presents “Deconstructing Neoliberal and Corporate Universities: Marginalization and Systemic Oppression of Animal Rights Activist Students and Faculty”

Unfortunately, despite multiple attempts to invite and encourage the participation of several Canisius departments and clubs, including Project Conservation, Amnesty International, Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations (ISHAR), and the Animal Behavior Ecology & Conservation (ABEC) and Anthrozoology programs, these groups chose not to participate or attend the conference.

Their choice not to attend this groundbreaking conference suggests that these groups fail to recognize the interconnectedness and cross-sectional nature of struggles for liberation (human, non-human and environmental). Their rejection of the conference and its foundational principles of solidarity among movements and the call for a transformative educational system speaks volumes about the mental stagnation and close mindedness which have intensified, and indeed created, such struggles.

Buffalo native Nate Buckley presents
Photo: Buffalo native Nate Buckley presents “Crime and Punishment? Whose Crime, Whose Punishment?”

What will you remember most about the conference?

One of the most significant topics addressed at the conference was the repressive and unconstitutional Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), which equates animal activism with terrorism and essentially strips activists of their First Amendment Rights. The necessity of testing the constitutionality of this stifling legislation was made clear through various presentations by Animal Law attorneys, academics and activists.

If anything, I and many others came away from the conference with a renewed sense of urgency in condemning and challenging such outrageous legislation. I was also amazed by the breadth and depth of knowledge of those presenting at the conference. There were numerous scholars, writers and theoreticians from around the world, but our very own professors from the Philosophy Department at Canisius, including Dr. Tanya Loughead and Dr. Steven Halady, were among the most memorable.

Judy K. C. Bentley of SUNY Cortland presents
Photo: Judy K. C. Bentley of SUNY Cortland presents “Human Disabilities, Nonhuman Animals, and Nature: Toxic Constructs and Transformative Technologies.”

Drawing on the unique experiences the conference offered, how will ICAS and you personally continue the fight for abolition of animal and ecological exploitation and oppression?

On a personal level, the CAS conference energized me and gave me the inspiration to continue to fight the systemic oppression of human and non-human animals. One of the main themes of the conference was that each and every one of us can and should be doing and sacrificing so much more to abolish the exploitation of animals (human and non-human) and to fight environmental degradation and destruction. The alliances forged and the strength and support garnered by participation in this conference will prove an invaluable tool as we all move forward in our respective fields of interest, in the hopes of creating a “better day.”

11th Annual North American Conference for Critical Animal Studies (Tabling)
Photo: 11th Annual North American Conference for Critical Animal Studies (Tabling)

Do you have a message for those who didn’t attend the conference?

There are of course countless activists, academics and interested individuals who were unable to make the trip to Buffalo, New York for this year’s conference. The Institute for Critical Animal Studies is always available for support and to provide education policy, research, and analysis for higher education. The Conference for Critical Animal Studies is an annual undertaking, and we encourage everyone to get involved next year!

For more information on the organizations which hosted this year’s conference, please visit: and

11th Annual North American Conference for Critical Animal Studies (Tabling)
Photo: 11th Annual North American Conference for Critical Animal Studies (Tabling) — at Canisius College

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