Bulletin News

Conference on Diversity set for April 17


Rachael Forester ’12, M ’14 learned the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion at SUNY Cortland.

As a Cortland student during a time when the percentage of students from underrepresented groups rose from 14% to 23%, Forester was a program coordinator for Orientation, then a residence hall director and ultimately the interim assistant director of Multicultural Life and Diversity.

It all prepared her for her current role as the associate director of the Identity, Equity and Engagement Office at University of North Carolina (UNC) at Charlotte.

Forester, who tries to live by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” will deliver the keynote speech during the annual Student Conference on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice on Saturday, April 17. The title of her talk is “Critical Consciousness: Equity in the Mirror.” 

Last year’s in-person conference, which would have been the 11th  student-led conference, was cancelled as the COVID-19 pandemic worsened. This year’s Webex conference will feature Forester, last year’s planned keynote speaker.

The conference, expected to attract approximately 300 attendees from 15 educational institutions across the state, will take place from 10:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. It  will feature three educational sessions plus cultural performances.

Rachael Forester ’12, M ’14

In addition to Forester, the event will feature as the student speaker Shaneya Simmelkjaer, a senior from Bronx, N.Y., who is pursuing triple majors in criminology, political science and Africana studies, and currently serves as president of the Black Student Union. In early 2020, Simmelkjaer became SUNY Cortland’s 14th recipient of a prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, a national award that was established under the federal International Academic Opportunity Act of 2000. After graduation this spring, she plans to study in Ghana during 2021.

Participation in the keynote lecture as well as other conference activities is free to everyone to attend, but registration by Thursday, April 15 is required.

Conference organizers  reviewed proposals for presentations in a research session, panel discussion or creative arts/performance/poster presentation format and selected 14 people to give presentations, including five lectures during Session I and II and four talks in Session III.Forester, who joined UNC Charlotte in 2015, will speak at 2:10 p.m.

Sponsored by the Campus Artist and Lecture Series, her speech is free and open to the public. 

Forester founded Activate! Social Justice Institute and White Consciousness Conversations at UNC Charlotte.

Shaneya Simmelkjaer

As she pursues a doctorate in educational leadership in higher education, her research focuses on understanding whiteness in student affairs and the effect that white privilege and white racial socialization has on those individuals seeking to effectively promote racial equity.

“As a social justice educator, I believe social change occurs through a critical understanding of self as it relates to our dominant and minoritized identities and how those identities are connected to systems of power, privilege and oppression,” Forester said.

She is a passionate advocate for anti-bias education, social justice, student development and creating expansive environments.

“My personal philosophy includes being hard on systems and soft on people as I strive to expand participation on the journey towards collective liberation,” Forester said.

At SUNY Cortland, Forester earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood and childhood education and a master’s degree in English as a second language. She also studied Spanish.

The Student Conference on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice was created to provide undergraduate and graduate students with an opportunity to share their academic research, build their resumes and network with other students across New York state around the core values of diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice. The student-led conference allows participants to discuss the problems and concepts of campus inclusion efforts and to research and present across a wide range of disciplines. The conference aligns itself with the strategic goals of the SUNY system as well as those of SUNY Cortland.

For more information, contact the Multicultural Life and Diversity Office at 607-753-2336.