Academic conferences have now been made virtual in order to align with the global circumstances, providing more accessibility for all eager learners. As such, CHC faculty, staff, and students were able to attend the National Society for Minorities in Honors Conference virtually to discuss and learn how to best serve the minority populations of their schools.
The conference opened with a powerful keynote from Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, who emphasized the importance of education, representation, and allyship in dismantling systemic racism. He set the tone for the conference, telling us all explicitly that there is still much work to be done, but it can be accomplished if we do it together. This theme held true during the rest of the conference, where each presenter brought up a different way that universities could function in order to best help their students, and one another, feel comfortable on campus as well as succeed academically.
Although believed to keep people disconnected, the virtual format allowed for a much more interactive experience. The Zoom chat was active with thoughts, discussions between attendees, and questions for the presenters. Witnessing the interaction and collaboration that came so easily to people from a number of different universities was astonishing, and helped all of us realize the impact that conferences can have. Additionally, the conference truly conveyed the power of networking. People shared their experiences in the chat and in Q&A portions, allowing for other universities to learn from the ideas shared. One topic that the questions and suggestions addressed was how to make the honors application processes more holistic. It’s hard to imagine conversations being so fluid and convenient in person.
The CHC worked with student leaders to prepare for the conference by providing an overview of the expectations, and by automatically registering everyone. Student leaders attended around their own schedules–another benefit of a virtual conference–and took notes on shared docs with their peers, allowing them to debrief important points with staff and other honors students at meetings. Overall, the conference provided faculty, staff, and students a space to create important dialogues from everyone’s experiences. The online structure, despite its difficulties, has brought all of us together to learn.
Campuswide Honors is excited to begin implementing best practices and programs gathered from this conference into its work of promoting inclusive excellence.
Contributed by Theresa Quynh Do, Romina Zarbaf, Erik Hansen, and Katherine Brogan