I just got back from the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) for 2019. I had never even heard of it until last year, when my friend and colleague from Elk Grove asked me if I was going. I owe her a debt of gratitude, as these conferences are transformational for me. It was the first conference I had ever been to where the majority of presenters were people of color. And there aren’t just two sessions to pick from in each time slot – there are a dozen – sometimes more!
This year there were more than 350 sessions from Tuesday to Saturday. There were so many great topics to choose from! Even though I selected my sessions weeks/days/hours before I still found myself standing in the middle of the hallway deciding which session to go over and over again. Given the situation, I will not try to tell you about every single thing I learned. I’ll just focus on a few.
My favorite keynote was Tommy Orange, an author born and raised right here across the bridge in Oakland. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, and his first novel, There There is about contemporary Native American life, set in Oakland. The story follows a dozen characters making their way to the big Oakland Powwow. It was on my list at the library, but while watching him speak at the conference, I bought a digital copy. There was something in the conversation that moved me, that connected with the parts of me and my life that are unrepresented in the world, and I knew I had to read it right away.
I went to a great session on improving your skills as a facilitator, The Facilitator In You: Leading Conversations Around Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. I learned a bunch of new things and felt so…validated, just being in the room with other people doing the work. So many frustrations, worries and successes. I often feel alone in the work – I know there are people who cringe when they see me coming. I know when I bring up race and other social justice topics, there are people rolling their eyes and wishing I would just. shut. up. It was rejuvenating to be in a room full of people deep in the work. And I learned so much! Bonus points.
My favorite session, though, was my first session – Preserving, Restoring and Honoring Indigenous Ways in Agriculture: Directions and Implications in Higher Education. There was a wide diversity in presenters, also, which I found a perfect way to begin my NCORE experience. This wasn’t just the old guard talking about how it’s always been done, it was about getting creative for our collective future. Besides learning a lot of completely new information, the participants were phenomenal. They were patient with my ignorance and careful in their instruction. They welcomed me with open arms.
I am truly grateful for my experiences this week. That said, I’m interested in what kinds of conferences you all are attending this year. There are so many things to learn in the world – feel free to leave a comment letting me know about your favorite conference!