Each year during the fall, regional conferences for the Association of College Unions International (ACUI), a non-profit educational organization that supports the development of community through education, advocacy and the delivery of services, unites college union and student professionals from hundreds of schools in seven countries.
As a institutional member of ACUI, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) sent several students and staff to attend the Region VI regional conference on behalf of University Student Commons and Activities. VCU is a member of Region VI, which includes Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ontario, Canada. This year’s regional conference took place from Oct. 21-23 at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.
The conference featured inclusive educational sessions, community building and learning experiences, which support ACUI’s mission as well as its core values of unconditional human worth, joy, learning, caring community, innovation, diversity and integrity.
Nailah Salvary, senior criminal justice and African American studies major, attended the conference for the second time. Part of Salvary’s interest in attending the conference was to gain a better perspective of diversity and inclusivity in other universities. The majority of sessions that she went to touched on themes such as biases and issues of privilege. “Being a gender, sexuality and women’s studies minor I thought it was really great to have sessions that I could relate to, not only as a student, but also as a worker of an environment that’s extremely diverse,” Salvary said.
The ACUI conference is host to many academic and professional opportunities, which Terry Brown, operations and retail coordinator for USC&A, believes are the most pivotal experiences students and staff can take away. “The best thing I get out of the conference is the networking and being able to meet other similar professionals,” Brown said. “There are educational sessions that teach you how to train employees, hire employees and more.”
Aisha Konare, senior biology major, attended the conference for the first time this year. Konare said one of the most important things she took away from the conference experience was the theme of unconscious bias. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Konare, an information assistant at USC&A hopes to implement what she learned within the capacity of her position. “When you think about it, the information assistants from VCU are the people that […] [make the] first impression of what VCU is, so by representing VCU in that sense, we need to better the way we speak to people and better the way we say certain things,” Konare said.
Kailah Cypress, senior business management major and a building manager for USC&A, also attended the conference for the first time. Inspired by the open and friendly environment of the conference, Cypress returned eager to integrate and implement what she learned at the conference into her daily life. “I want to put [what I learned at the conference] towards the type of person I am and I feel like that will help me grow, with this job and when I graduate from college and go to my next [job],” Cypress said.
Overall, the ACUI 2016 Region VI regional conference was a positive experience for students and staff alike. On this point, Cypress and Konare agree. “This weekend made us so passionate about our customer service here at VCU. At the end of the day, we need to please students, faculty, staff and [those] that are lost. This weekend taught us so much about how important customer service is and how important first impressions are,” Konare said.
The ACUI 2017 annual conference will be held in Philadelphia, Pa. on March 19-23. USC&A plans to send representatives to this conference to expand on the regional conference experience.