This summer two students are learning more about diversity, social activism and how they could enhance opportunities at Indiana University East for students.
IU East students Taylor Webster and Mary Webster, sisters from Richmond, Indiana, attended the 31st Annual National Conference for Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE®) held in New Orleans, May 28 to June 2. They were joined at the conference by Latishea Varnesdeel, special assistant to the chancellor and chief diversity officer, Sheila Armstead, director of field/clinical assistant professor for the School of Social Work, and Cal Simpson, lecturer for the School of Business and Economics and advisor to the Multicultural Affairs Club.
NCORE was established in 1988 to address the resurgence of racist incidents in higher education. The organization is a national resource for higher education institutions, providing an annual multicultural forum to improve racial and ethnic relations on campus and to expand opportunities for educational access and success by culturally diverse, traditionally underrepresented populations.
Taylor Webster is a political science major. She will be the president of the Student Government Association this year. She served as the vice president during 2017-2018. Taylor attended the conference last year, and formed the Multicultural Affairs Club at IU East.
Mary Webster is president of the 21st Century Scholars Club and a member of the Multicultural Affairs Club.
Taylor Webster said her first visit to the NCORE conference last summer held in Fort Worth, Texas, was an eye-opening experience where she could immerse herself in other people’s experiences and stories. “The atmosphere of the conference is so welcoming,” Taylor said. “My time at NCORE last year opened my eyes to all of the opportunities that I have as a student to make a positive impact at IU East. One of the most important ideas that I learned is that learning means nothing if you are not sharing the knowledge that has been bestowed upon you. I think it is my duty to share the information I am lucky to have received.”
Already a member of the SGA, Taylor Webster sought other ways to share her knowledge and to enhance the opportunities students had available on campus. One way she did that was to establish the Multicultural Affairs Club.
“I started the Multicultural Affairs Club on campus as a way to share what I learned at NCORE,” she said. “My main goal this year was to engage students in difficult conversations through entertainment that they enjoy. I did this by hosting two movie nights on campus where students were invited to come and enjoy a movie and engage in a conversation about important topics afterward.”
From her experience, Taylor Webster was also able to teach the diversity section in the First-Year Seminar class that she is a peer mentor to.
Mary Webster is a junior social work major. This is the first year she has attended the NCORE conference, and she was inspired to go after hearing about Taylor’s trip last summer. Her goal is to implement some of the lessons learned while at the conference.
“One of my favorite things from NCORE was being able to learn about things that people do not usually talk about every day,” Mary Webster said. “I was able to surround myself with people who wanted to make a change back where they were from in some form. I met a friend at NCORE and I was able to hear their hopes and dreams for their town which led to inspiring me to push for change even more. I hope to first enlighten people on campus about our experience.”
While at NCORE this year, Taylor Webster attended sessions such as the Student Social Justice Institute and Integrating Student Activism Within Your Student Government. At these sessions, she said she was able to learn topics like discussing social justice issues with administration and ways that Student Government Associations can be agents of change within an institution.
“This year, I hope to be able to diversify the types of events that the Multicultural Affairs Club offers. I want all students to feel welcome to come to meetings and events and learn about others,” Taylor Webster said. “I think the most important way to combat fear and intolerance is through conversations where we learn that we truly are one people. It is my goal to create these conversations in a way that is not only inviting and entertaining, but also meaningful and lasting.”
Sharing in the experience with her sister brought a new aspect to what she had learned and how she could share her knowledge with others.
“Being able to debrief after the day with someone who is from my campus and has a similar worldview was extremely beneficial,” Taylor said. “We were able to talk about what we spoke about in our different sessions and ways that we could use what we learned to benefit other students at IU East.”
Varnesdeel said the conference was beneficial to the students, staff and faculty attending this year.
“As chief diversity officer, I am proud that IU East was able to take two students to NCORE this year,” Varnesdeel said. “Our students were able to attend sessions of their choosing, focusing on race and ethnicity, social justice issues, and participated in a tour to learn the history of the various races, ethnicities and cultures that make up the New Orleans area.”
While in New Orleans, there were opportunities outside of the conference to explore New Orleans and to meet others.
“On a tour of New Orleans, we were able to see the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as well as the strength of the city and the progress they have made in rebuilding and revitalizing the city,” Taylor Webster said.
Varnesdeel said a highlight of the trip was for the group to meet Leona Tate, one of the first children to integrate the school system in the country. On November 14, 1960, Tate was one of three young girls escorted by Federal Marshals through a crowd of protestors to attend school at McDonogh 19. They were the first African Americans to attend formerly white-only schools in Louisiana – six years after Brown v. Board of Education.
Armstead has attended NCORE for the last seven years but feels that this year, with additional students, faculty and staff attending, is especially great.
“This conference is very special to me as I learn more about people, situations, methods to teach diversity and topics to assist our seniors during their field experiences,” Armstead said. “Over the years I have utilized much of the information obtained by presenters in my diversity classes. Coming from a rural area and being in the intermix of people from all backgrounds, race, ethnicities, religions, etc., opened her eyes to the reality and dispelled many stereotypes. Mary indicated after attending NCORE she definitely is going into social work. My hopes next year some of our Administrators, faculty, and more students attend this conference. It is an eye opening experience.”
Simpson said this is the third NCORE conference he has attended. He hopes more students will attend the conference in the future. He said he actively sought out sessions that focused on mentoring and student/instructor communication, with the hope to a better mentor to the IU East student population.
“I found the sessions I attended were very insightful,” Simpson said. “I rather enjoyed speaking with individuals that were passionate about issues concerning diversity in higher education. I look forward to the possibility of future collaborations.”
Mary Webster agreed that she would like to see more students – and staff – attending the NCORE conference in the future.
“It is a very eye-opening experience for anyone,” Mary Webster said. “I am extremely excited to be able to use my voice and make a change on campus.”