Justus White first heard of the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education (NCORE) during a visit to the NCAA convention earlier this year.
White, a senior psychology major from Cottage Grove, Minnesota, was one of 40 students selected from a nationwide pool of hundreds of candidates to be part of a Division III student immersion program at the NCAA conference last January in San Antonio.
“I didn’t know anything about NCORE until I passed their booth and talked to their executive director,” said White, who transferred to Saint John’s University after two years competing on the track team at Division II Tiffin University in Ohio. “It sounded like a really interesting organization and, when I heard about this year’s conference in New Orleans, I came back to campus and tried to figure a plan for how I could go.”
NCORE serves as the leading national forum on issues of race and ethnicity in higher education. The conference is intended to serve as a forum for people of all backgrounds to explore the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, religion and class with programming and the cultural environment on campuses across the nation.
White brought the idea of attending to Malik Stewart, director of the multicultural center at Saint John’s and the College of Saint Benedict, and also learned Sandra Mitchell, just a few months into her role as the schools inaugural senior diversity officer, was very familiar with the conference and already looking for a way to make it accessible to students. Thanks to financial support from the CSB and SJU student senates, White joined two others – sophomores Adrian Belisle and Stacey Delgado – for the trip to the Big Easy. Belisle is a political science major from Los Angeles, vice-president of the 2023-24 Saint John’s Student Senate and also its student issues representative. Delgado, a communication major from Chicago, has been involved with CSB campus ministry and Student Leadership and Engagement.
They attended breakouts, workshops and browsed vendor booths. Among the experiences that resonated most with White were a talk by Kimberlee Yolanda Williams, author of Dear White Woman, Please Come Home, and a presentation on student self-care.
“My only criticism is there were so many things I wanted to attend that it was hard to pick and choose,” said White, who wants to pursue a career in sports psychology. “There was such a culture of spirituality in New Orleans. I went to one session that was about how you can use tarot for anti-racism. The whole conference was a very affirming environment. It wasn’t just where you sit and listen. We met a lot of people, networked and sometimes it was nice just to have a chance to vent and engage. I hope we’ll be able to send other students in the future and maybe even bring some of this programming to our campuses.”
Mitchell and Sydney Robinson ’19, assistant director of the multicultural center, also attended NCORE.
“This is the seventh time I’ve been to it, and I’ve seen it evolve from where it was previously focused on the experiences of front-line DEI practitioners and students to where now it’s integrated at a lot of levels including executives and even boards of trustees,” said Mitchell, who previously served as the director of equity and inclusion at St. Catherine University. “There was a breakout session for gay athletes, which cuts across the experience of people from a lot of different backgrounds. And there were sessions that were more focused on the things we can do at an administrative level. There were 5,000 people there, so there’s always a lot of interesting things to see and hear.”
Robinson said students like Belisle, Delgado and others could play a bigger role in future conferences.
“We have so many students who could easily do some of the presentations I saw, and it would be an opportunity for them to get some exposure and perspective on a national level,” Robinson said. “I’m like, ‘I know our QPLUS and (Advocates for Inclusive Mentoring) students could facilitate these conversations.’”
Mitchell would like to perhaps replicate some of NCORE’s programming on a much smaller scale in the future at CSB and SJU. She cites the Thomas L. Hill Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity at Iowa State University as an event that brings similar focus to the Upper Midwest.
“Maybe we could do our own version,” she said. “It’s valuable for our campus community to hear these multiple perspectives.”
NCORE 2024 will be from May 28-June 1 in Honolulu, Hawaii.