Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 22, 2016   |   Ithaca, NY


Commentary: Weekend retreat shapes college experience

I heard about the Cross-Cultural Leadership Retreat, which is Nov. 8–10 this year, during my first year at Ithaca College from a few friends in my residence hall who participated in it. While it sounded like a decent way to spend a weekend, my friends’ description of the retreat didn’t make a great impact on me, so I didn’t consider participating in it myself.

Living through the Housing Offering a Multicultural Experience program my first year, I already had conversations exploring aspects of my identity as a woman, a white person and more. By my sophomore year, my confidence caught up with me, and I began to desire a more activism-focused community on campus. People suddenly expected me to take responsibility for the broader context of my actions by acknowledging my privilege and using it to work toward social justice. It was no longer enough for me to simply take part in identity conversations.

This push from my peers got me to think about activism. I wanted a community that would hold me accountable as a social-justice advocate while supporting me as I struggled through the jumbled world of identity. The CCLR seemed like a good place to look for like-minded people, so when the application deadline rolled around my sophomore year, I applied.

The first day, participants examined aspects of identity such as race, class, sexual orientation, gender and ability. While all the activities were thought-provoking, it wasn’t until we broke into small groups that I began to understand the impact the CCLR would have on me. I had only met these people that morning, but within a day I had found the community I’d been looking for.

The more I talked to others, the more sure I was of my commitment to social justice and my need for a supportive community. The final activity of the CCLR encouraged participants to anonymously acknowledge the impact their peers have had on them. Participants did this through a small tap on the shoulder after statements such as “touch someone who helped this weekend” or “touch someone who told the truth.” To know that I had been someone trustworthy, helpful or even just funny helped me realize that I am an important piece of the identity puzzle.

I met some of my best friends that weekend, who I still turn to for both support and to keep me in check in my social justice work, from fighting for an Asian-American Studies program to creating an inclusive space for women of all races through Sister 2 Sister. I still consider the leaders of the retreat, Don Austin, Michele Lenhart and John Rawlins III of the Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs, key mentors in my life. Because of the CCLR, I became a Diversity Peer Educator on campus so that I can bring conversations about identity, diversity and social justice that took place at the CCLR back to the college community through student-led workshops. Last year, I went back to the CCLR as a leader, and being able to help other students have an experience like I had was one of the most enriching parts of my college career.

I cannot imagine where I would be if I had never gone on the CCLR. While I won’t be attending the retreat this year, it gives me peace to know that such a program exists where students can be honest and make connections that are more than skin deep. Though I’m not yet sure where my career path will take me, I know that the skills and values I gained at the CCLR will be instrumental in what I choose to pursue.