Conquering the Conference: My experience at the 2011 NASPA Multicultural Institute

We would like to thank Lauren Gaines, Academic Specialist at Michigan State University, for this guest post.

A colleague asked me if I was excited, the day before setting off for the NASPA Multicultural Institute.  If anxious and excited were cousins, then at very least my feelings were sharing holidays together. The truth is, despite 2-3 years of membership, NMI would be my first real-life NASPA conference. I’ve attended plenty of webinars often barefoot and in the comfort of my own office, but not a NASPA conference, where I would be out of my comfort zone and made to wear shoes.  Contrary to my affect I am quite an introvert; I just happen to wear an extrovert dress and charismatic pumps.

Before checking in at the conference, I went to my room for a self-pep-talk and a stiff can of Diet Coke.  ”It’s OK to be nervous,” I spoke to me aloud, while simultaneously curling my hair (which was equally unprepared); ‘It’s not OK to be reclusive and strange;” I continued  “This is fun!  This is exciting! If your efforts are unsuccessful, you can always Tweet,” ”Relax. Relate. Release!”

The turning point of my pre-conference anxiety happened in my first session, ”Lets Get Real about Racism” hosted by Lee Mun Wah of Stir Fry Seminars.  When I walked in the room, I felt the power of change; I noticed each of the different faces, names, skin tones, hair textures, ages, genders and smiles.  It’s such a rare and incredible experience to be in a room with this breadth of diversity.  I was completely enveloped by shared thoughts, stories and feelings that will resonate with me for a lifetime.

Over the course of the conference I saw a sneak-peek of the controversial film “If These Halls Could Talk,” a documentary filmed from student’s perspective, on the drop-out rates and diversity issues at predominantly White institutions. Kathy Obear, President of Alliance for Change and Founding Faculty of the Social Justice Training Institute, taught me how to conduct an engaging and transformative Diversity/Inclusion Workshop in 60 minutes! The Counseling & Student Life staff at Baylor University made sure I was more aware of the mental health challenges faced by multicultural student populations and developed strategies to effectively address them. I vibed to the beat of the African Hip Hop artists and activists from Keynote, Emily Musil Church’s research on Social Media & Africa’s Tech Revolution.  And just before I pinched myself, I talked Higher Ed politics over chicken & waffles, with the amazing Hudlin Wagner, VP for Student Development and Dean of Students at Carleton University.

I could share at least 4 more paragraphs of highlight reel and it would only scratch the surface of what I’ve taken away. I have developed more competence in my field and can move forward with renewed intention; I am more confident as a strong African American woman and young professional in Higher Education.  Most importantly, I left having new allies with whom I can share my journey. In short, I could not have asked for a better first NASPA experience and I look very forward to the next.

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