There’s so much to share from this conference I attended in New Orleans last week. NCORE is the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education. Thousands of DEI professionals, practitioners, and activists convened on the edge of the French Quarter to learn, connect and compare notes.
It’s an interesting time to be doing this work. In some ways, more people than ever are ready to have honest and open conversations about history, race, identity, and inequity. In other ways, there is a coordinated pushback that can be discouraging and exhausting. There were people from states where DEI work is under assault. Where positions are being eliminated and freedom to teach material is being restricted.
In one session, a woman spoke of her weariness at seeing her institution move toward needed and meaningful change after the unrest in 2020, only to witness that momentum waver and the status quo settle back into place. A murmur of familiarity and resonance filled the room as people shared stories of unmet goals and promises without real action.
“The journey of liberation is not a steady climb,” one presenter reminded us. “The path has ups and downs. But after every valley of limitation, there is a peak of progress. Keep climbing.”
And really, that’s what these gatherings are for. To encourage. To learn. To sustain. To cheer one another on in the pursuit of a world that works better for everyone. And to do some important self-reflection along the way.
NCORE’s conference coincided with the beginning of Pride month. It coincided with a rise in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation across the country. No place is immune, and I’m enough of a realist to understand that we will never live in a world that is free of conflict. People have been doing unfortunate things since the beginning of history and they will do unfortunate things until the end of it. The question for me is, how do we reduce the frequency of harm and how do we support one another along the way? And when bad things do happen, how will we respond?
NCORE had established all gender bathrooms for the conference. There were plenty of gender specific bathrooms around the property for people who preferred those, but a few of the facilities had paper signs taped to the doors that clearly labeled them as all gender. Gender neutral. Use them if you want to, move on if you don’t. Unfortunately, at some point, someone tampered with and tore down the signs. I suppose there’s a chance that it was accidental, or perhaps it was intentional, but especially considering the pressure the LGBTQ+ community has been under—historically and recently—I was glad to see NCORE respond quickly and clearly.
An email went out, along with an alert on the app. In part, their statement read, “Trans, non-binary, and gender expansive communities have been and continue to be a key part of liberatory work. We at NCORE denounce and want to name clearly that these actions are unacceptable and not in alignment with NCORE’s call to fostering inclusion.” The signs were back in place right away.
At a general session that day, we were reminded of the words of Audre Lorde from her speech, “Learning from the 60’s.” “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” We are all in this together. And we are all we got.
And we were reminded of NCORE’s fundamental role in the world: “This place—NCORE—is a refuge. If we want a new world and a better way, we have to find it here first.”