This year I had the opportunity to attend the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NORE) in New Orleans. This was my first time attending the conference and I did not know what to expect.

I had heard a lot of great things from friends and colleagues who had attended the conference in the past. On my flight to New Orleans, I started to read the session descriptions and found myself becoming overwhelmingly excited and nervous. However, after hearing the first keynote speaker our first night there, my nerves disappeared, and I just knew this was going to be an amazing experience.

One of the first sessions I attended was facilitated by three Latinx PhD higher education professionals, which is mainly why I chose the session. Throughout my college journey, not once was I taught by someone who looked like me and who shared some of the same experiences that I had gone through. This is something that our current students also face. As universities and colleges, we put all of our efforts in recruiting more students of color (SOC) to our campus. But what are we doing about diversifying our faculty and staff? Can our students see themselves in their professors? In their financial aid counselors? What about their hall directors? OR what about their admissions counselor and admissions leadership team?

Ok, let’s get back to the session I attended…

As we sat down, one of the facilitators posed a question.

“When are you authentic? When do you feel you can be yourself?”

He gave us 60 seconds to just write, until he told us to stop. Now, I have never considered myself a writer - even as I type this I am questioning myself and want to go back and erase portions of it. I quickly wrote what first came to mind. After the 60 seconds were up, he told us to drop our pens. I looked down and had written the following:

“When I am with people that I trust. I can be loud. I can joke. I can laugh. I can cry. I don’t have to worry about ‘what will they think?' 'what will they say.’
I can vent. I can openly express myself. I am validated. I am reaffirmed. I am not questioned about my experiences. I am authentically and truly me.”

As a SOC who attended a predominantly white institution (PWI), I found myself questioning whether I could truly be myself. I found myself pushing myself to create a space for me and others to call home, where I could feel like I belonged. As I graduated and decided to pursue a career in higher education, I found myself doing the same thing. I had to create spaces for other SOC, but also for myself as a staff member. I had to make sure to not internalize all of the microaggressions that I received from prospective students, current students, parents, families, and colleagues. There is no reason why students of color or staff of color should feel like they can’t be themselves in certain spaces.

This conference reminded me that my work…OUR work…continues. We have to continue challenging policies that create barriers for minoritized students. We have to speak up and show up. We have to be proactive and not reactive in our work. We have to challenge our staff and, most importantly, ourselves. Conferences like NCORE not only serve as great professional development, but also as personal development.

My first NCORE will definitely be one to remember. It was truly so beautiful sharing a space with other individuals who had similar experiences and passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion work. I felt validated and re-affirmed throughout my week there, and I was also challenged. The conference was transformative and, as a pon of color, it also served as self-care.