Reparations for descendents of slaves is just one topic of discussion at “Legacy of Slavery: Unequal Exchange,” a conference which began yesterday and will continue through Saturday.

The conference takes place in Corwin Pavilion from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. All sessions are free and open to the public.

The conference is a product of California State Legislation SB 1737, which was passed two years ago and requires the University of California to sponsor a conference to discuss the economic legacy of slavery in the United States. The bill also requires the UC to make recommendations to the state Legislature based on what is learned at the conference.

The event has attracted professors from schools such as the University of Virginia and Georgetown University, as well as representatives from various UC campuses. A similar event was held at UCLA earlier this year.

Participants and speakers will address various topics during the conference, including slavery and freedom in the Caribbean and Latin America, slavery in North America and racism and discrimination after emancipation.

Conference organizer Douglas Daniels said it is necessary to discuss slavery before the healing process can begin.

“What we need is to have a frank and honest discussion, especially about such a painful topic,” he said. “One reason we don’t talk about slavery is that we don’t have the vocabulary to discuss it intelligently.”

Members of the panel on reparations, the most controversial of the topics being discussed at the conference, will speak this afternoon starting at 1:45 p.m. Advocates disagree about the exact amount that should be paid to the descendents of slaves if reparations are enacted, though the most prevalent recommendation is $17 trillion to be dispersed over a period of time.

Various institutions, such as African-American colleges and churches, could benefit from this money in addition to individuals, Daniels said.

UCSB Center for Black Studies Director Claudine Michel said reparations were inevitable and should focus more on fellowships and loans for small businesses.

“The real question is what form the reparations should take,” she said. “As an educator, I’d like to see African-Americans afforded more access to education.”

Michel said there are precedents for reparations outside of the United States. For example, Germany has paid over $60 billion in reparations to Israel since the Holocaust.

Although support for reparations appears to be stronger among African Americans, both blacks and whites are divided as to whether reparations are needed. While some people want to target businesses that profited from slavery, others want to focus on the federal government instead, and argue that all of American society is responsible.

Political activist Deadria Farmer-Paellmann has identified 60 companies with ties to slavery and has filed a lawsuit against three: Aetna Inc., FleetBoston Financial Corp. and CSX Corp., a railroad company from Richmond, Virginia.

In the past, such lawsuits have been unsuccessful because it is difficult to establish ties between companies and slavery. Many companies that were either established after emancipation or have no direct ties to slavery have indirect connections through mergers with and acquisitions of companies that did have direct ties.

Society at large and political leaders in particular should discuss the issue of reparations in depth, Daniels said.

“Our representatives in Congress can talk about tobacco and drilling in the Arctic,” he said. “Why not discuss slavery?”