Written by Blythe Coleman-Mumford
(Climate Programs Manager of HBCU/MSI
Engagement and BIPOC Affinity Programming)

From May 28th to June 3rd, Cami Sockow and I traveled to the beautiful ahupuaʻa of Waikīkī in Honolulu to attend the National Conference on Race & Ethnicity (NCORE). Our friend and colleague, Makerusa Porotesano (Mak), who has been engaged with Second Nature since 2021, is an original member of the Intersectional Climate Action Leaders Working Group and has presented during our last two Higher Education Climate Leadership Summits, generously offered this opportunity. Mak, a core leader at NCORE, has significantly enhanced our understanding and programming, particularly concerning Pacific Islanders.

NCORE, hosted by the University of Oklahoma, began in 1988 and addresses racism in higher education. This year, it attracted 5,500 attendees and featured keynotes from notable figures like Kimberlé Crenshaw and Justin Jones. The conference has become a vital national resource, and climate justice discussions have gained prominence thanks to Mak and his Pacific Climate Warriors.

Mak emphasized the urgency of climate change for Pacific Islander communities and the need to advance climate justice programming at NCORE. He stated, “We are committed to expanding this work… I am eager to see this work evolve and am prepared to remain involved for as long as necessary to see it through.”

On May 29th, Cami and I presented a session titled “A Second Nature Case Study: Progressing DEIAJ Work and Ethic While Serving Higher Education.” We aimed to contextualize our work at Second Nature, discuss affinity-based programming, foster difficult conversations, and differentiate internal and external DEIAJ initiatives. We also traced the history of climate and environmental justice movements and their impact on our organization’s mission and values.

The conference at the LEED Gold-certified Hawai’i Convention Center featured many sessions. Notable topics included “Interrogating the I in BIPOC: A Law and Policy Perspective” and “Colonization: The Root of Queer Antagonism.” These sessions were raw, informative, and powerful, addressing the challenges faced by faculty and staff of color in academia.

I participated in the Black caucus space, gaining insights into the specific challenges faced by Black, Asian, and American Indian faculty and staff. A prominent theme was the inadequacy of language to identify people accurately, with “BIPOC” often seen as problematic. Despite its flaws, it remains a default term, but there is a push to be more specific in naming identities and lands.

Many Black faculty expressed difficulty envisioning an education system genuinely supportive of Blackness and Black joy, highlighting the academy’s roots in colonization. Data from various presentations showed that staff of color feel significantly under-resourced and under-supported, affirming the necessity of creating affinity spaces for these professionals.

Overall, attending NCORE was a profound privilege. Cami and I returned with a deeper understanding of academia’s current state concerning race, ethnicity, and social justice. We were honored to advocate for integrating personal identities into professional work, a practice we embody at Second Nature. This invaluable experience will stay with us as we continue championing climate justice and DEIAJ efforts in higher education.