This coming spring the Boston region will hold its annual Women of Color in the Academy Conference. This will be the fifth conference—and the second time the conference commences entirely virtually.
Rescheduled from the Spring, the 2020 Women of Color in the Academy Conference drew 136 participants. Each year, Northeastern University hosts the conference which is planned by a Boston-wide committee of members from institutions across New England alongside a planning committee composed of Northeastern women of color faculty, the ADVANCE Office of Faculty Development, and the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion. Co-Chaired by Nicole Aljoe, Director of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of English and Tracy Robinson-Wood, Professor of Applied Psychology in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, the fourth conference occurred on the heels of the 2020 election. The conference’s theme, Raising Our Voices, Strengthening the Academy, encouraged participants to turn inward as a source of strength for the collective.
The keynote speaker was Helen Elaine Lee, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law school. She’s a writer and the Director of MIT’s Program in Women’s & Gender Studies. Cognizant of the era that we exist in, she asked the attendees to understand that though we are “entering into a space of uncertainty,” we should motivate each other to mobilize. Lee found writing as an outlet to motivate herself. “It’s a time to write,” she said, “and a time to remember that voting matters.”
These words set the scene for the breakout sessions that included learning to overcome self-doubt, achieving meaningful self-care, navigating white spaces, and creating strong networks with other Women of Color.
One breakout session, “Challenging Imposter Syndrome,” led by Rayshauna Gray encompassed many of these themes. Self-care and mentorships are both key components of confronting imposter syndrome—to confront imposter syndrome is, at some level, to confront racist institutions themselves.
In some cases, it’s not just imposter syndrome. It’s what Dr. Adaira Landry calls “network deficiency.” She led a breakout session on networks called, “The Advanced Mindset and Practices of Mentorship.” Imposter Syndrome is an internal battle – but network deficiency is very much external. Some people simply don’t have access to preparatory experiences, role models, and mentors, early on and throughout their adult lives. That’s why, as Helen Elaine Lee mentioned earlier in the day, mentorship is so important. Not all needs can be filled by one mentor, rather an individual needs a spectrum of mentors for different facets of life. That could be mentors like Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, another session leader and expert on negotiation, or Kerstin Perez who spoke about her experience in engaging underrepresented students.
This coming conference provides the opportunity for these important conversations to continue. The Fifth Annual Conference will take place on May 21st. Please register to attend here.