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  • Writer's pictureAshley Gray

10 things I think... My First National Conference Presentation

So a litte background... I presented on #BlackWomenatWork: The role of gendered racial microaggressions against Black women leaders in higher education at NASPA (National Association for Student Personnel Administrators) in Philly. Here are just a few reasons why this experience was memorable.

1. My train is delayed 2.5 hours leaving DC. I'm skressed. I'm on this Amtrak, it smells like feet and spam and my anxiety is about to make a fool of me. I break out into an anxious sweat.

2. I accidentally sit in the quiet car. The man next to me who has traveled by plane, train and automobile to get home to his partner to celebrate his surprise 50th birthday party clearly needs my counsel. He begins to share how the noreaster has really thrown off his travel and how frustrated he was. The lady next to us who has a full beard and minimal amounts of tact decides to shush us. I look at her in the language of my ancestor Harriet Tubman and visually suggest she mind her business. (Look message: Dead Jaybird don't sing) This man needed a friend and here she was being the talk police. I had not complained when her motorola razr went off four times. Was that not a distraction?

3. I get to Philly and the anxiety sweat comes back immediately. Everyone is moving fast in the train station because they clearly know that ubers only pick up on one side. Running back through the building so I can catch my ride withh "Ty", I realize I am not as in shape as I thought.

3. My über driver smelled like the freshest boquet of weed florettes. He suggested that we stop and take a restroom break because he "had to piss like a race horse." Now, I don't judge folks who indulge in gardening and harvesting green plants, but brother you've lost your mind if you think we're stopping.

4. "Well at least let me take you on a date." If you don't take your 24 year old, I'm driving on my parents' insurance, I spend my check on cannibus and cheese fries behind away from me, I'll report you." That's what I wanted to say. Instead I got a recommendation from him about a cheesesteak place. If there's one thing I know about high people, they know where the good food is.

5. I get to the hotel. I'm staying with a friend night one because well... I'm a poor grad student. I get to the room at 6:30. The gala that is the source of my anxiety sweat begins in 30 minutes. I need to pull a Black Cinderella and fast. So I pretend that I am Janet Jackon on the Velvet Rope tour and fast wardrobe changes are my thing.

6. Spanx will make a fool of you everytime. I had gotten this mummified spanx thing that tucked and sucked in every curve the week before. Well, tonight after having to oil my body to get it on, I still see pudge. I have to resolve this internally by saying oh well, you'll lose your curves by the end of the night because this gala food ain't gonna have no seasoning. Less salt= less water retention. I managed to shower, dress and apply a face in 30 minutes. I'll just have to be late dammit.

7. I walk in, folks are seated and here I am in a full red dress among a room of Black gowns. Either I look like a harlot or this must be quite an entrance. Get to the table and they had just started us on salads. Remembering my handy dandy etiquette lesson from Titanic the movie, I remind myself to use the utentsils "outside-in." Food didn't have a drop of salt. Therefore, I'm skinny again. Right?


8. On presentation day, my stomach tried to betray me. I don't know what it is about doing something important that reminds your stomach that it's time to be as present as possible. The whole presentation my stomach is growling loudly like I had neglected it for days. I keep trying to talk over it because what's worse than a growling stomach? The perception that I may have gas. That would just about end my career. It was a battle royale.

9. Presentation goes amazingly. My co-presenter and I met for the first time the day before and we just "worked" really well together. It feel like an old-new friend. We are tag teaming the presentation, taking questions and absorbing all the magic from the Black women that came to our sessions and shared their stories. Did I mention the room is packed??? Like folks are standing in the door. Afterwards, I got at least 20 hugs and I needed all of them. It had been a beautifully anxious weekend preparing for that moment. The room was filled with snaps when were saying what they liked, "mhhhhs" when we were dropping knowledge and headshakes that spoke to my soul. I am forever grateful.

10. I was also awarded a fellowship to attend this conference that involved creating a video about my research interest. This was a prestigious award. I had no idea it would be that big. After winning the award, an older white man walk up and says, Glad we could help with your financial need" to me and the other Black recipient. There's always a moment in which racism sneaks into the rooms and sucks out all the air. I never expressed financial need (eventhough it's a real thing), what I did do however, was convey an interest and awareness on my research topic. All things considered, his voice is a very small one compared to all the words of encouragement, hugs and wisdom I got from other conference attendees.

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