How to Highlight your Identities as Strengths at Conferences

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Wei-Jin “Gina” Leow is a native New Yorker and current graduate student of NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where she studies Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. She is a current Paul D. Coverdell Fellow, having completed her Peace Corps service in China as a university English teacher. In her spare time, Gina reads to second grade children, helps staff professional development workshops for young adults from underserved communities, and serves on the Wasserman Student Diversity Advisory Board.  

Intersectionality was not a word that I fully understood the meaning of until I started studying at NYU. I would often read about it in my classes, but attending a Justice Zone training at the Center for Multicultural Education and Programs (CMEP) really solidified the importance of this word for me. The training highlighted the fact that we have multiple identities (based on gender, race, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, etc.), but only certain identities come to the forefront depending on the situation.

From March 19-22, I had the privilege of attending the “5th Annual Diversity Abroad Conference: Embracing the Future of Global Education” in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was attending as a graduate student in a room of approximately 500 professionals established in their fields. I knew that going into the sessions, some of my identities would need to stand out more than the others. I chose to highlight one element of my educational, professional, and personal backgrounds. Here are my three:

  1. Student (Educational)

Even though I had more than a year of work experience in the field of international education, it was important that I identified myself as a graduate student while networking, since it is my current role. I also wanted to highlight my status as a student to show that I was there to learn from others, given that most of the conference attendees had more years of experience than I did in the field. However, the professionals who were attending the conference were people who wanted to know how to better serve their students, so they valued my insight as a current student.

Tip: Always carry business cards! Many of the people I met were impressed that I carried business cards as a student.

  1. Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Professional)

One of the biggest reasons why I attended this particular conference was because the session topics at the conference were directly related to the experiences that I or other Volunteers had during Peace Corps service. When I drew examples pertaining to the session topics, I needed to reference the Peace Corps because my examples may have been unique to the particular context of the organization. Not all the study abroad programs that the attendees were representing looked the same.

Citing the Peace Corps also helped me gain credibility as a participant of a kind of study abroad program. This, as well as my identity as a student, made for great conversation starters. Finally, the last reason why I highlighted this as one of my identities is because I knew that there were Peace Corps staff members in the room and wanted to meet them.

Tip: Know who is in your audience!

  1.     Greek-speaking Chinese-American (Personal)

Going into the conference sessions, I never thought that my upbringing in a Greek household was ever going to come up in conversation. To my surprise, the first session of the conference was a luncheon with a select group of individuals in higher education. A representative from Diversity Abroad, the organization that hosted the conference, mentioned that someone from an organization that facilitated trips to Greece was at our table – he was sitting right next to me! I quickly introduced myself to him. He was surprised by my hidden identity, yet so ecstatic to hear that I showed a deep appreciation for the Greek culture. We talked for the rest of the luncheon about a variety of topics, from the refugee crisis to New York City. It was one of the most free-flowing conversations I had during the conference.

Tip: As you network and get to know more about other people’s backgrounds, find commonality and highlight your strengths!

I was fortunate to have attended the Diversity Abroad conference because I was awarded the NYU Gallatin Dean’s Conference Fund, since the topics discussed were directly related to my concentration. Be sure to contact your NYU school and see if they are able to help with the costs or with connecting you with conference attendees.  Attending conferences is a wonderful way to build your network, since you do not know whether your next employer (or previous employer) will be there. Before attending these conferences, be sure to look at the schedule beforehand and see which identities you would need to highlight over others. You certainly do not need to pick one educational, professional, and personal – these are just my recommendations. Be social and remember to have fun! Good luck!

If you’re interested in connecting with other NYU students over discussions and events related to identity, check out Ally Week, April 10-14.