March 23, 2016
Communications and Marketing
On Friday, March 11, 30 Saint Anselm College students headed to Essex, Mass., to connect over shared experiences at the "Preserving Unity Within Ourselves Retreat," a weekend-long student-led program.
Part of the Multicultural Center's Martin Luther King, Jr. celebratory programming, the entirely student-driven Unity Retreat was designed to open up conversation and connect a diverse group of students, representing difference races, ethnicities, languages, political beliefs, socioeconomic statuses, religious beliefs, and sexual orientation.
Communication and Spanish major India Barrows '16 created the retreat last year with two recent Saint Anselm graduates, Basirat Sanni '15 and Coraima Perez '15, to advocate for their fellow students. The founders felt it was important for underrepresented students (themselves included) to have an opportunity to share their own stories and experiences and hopefully, feel more connected to the college.
"We began this initiative because we believe that the best student representative is a fellow student," says Barrows. "No one can understand the student experience better than our own peers, so we really emphasized the importance of us as students running the program."
Each of the six student leaders led an activity based around a different topic of conversation, including being a woman of color, being a man of color, and gender roles. These subjects were discussed and reflected back to the themes of the experience of being underrepresented in the college community and as an individual of color in the United States.
Nursing major Jackie Parece ‘17 enjoyed the retreat and shared that the leaders did a great job facilitating in a way that ensured that everyone's voice was heard.
"I gained a better understanding of other people's perspectives on life and social controversies," says Parece. "I was able to hear stories from other participants about things I honestly didn't think happened in our country. Also, I met a lot of new people with similar ideas and views of the world as me."
Throughout the retreat, the leaders incorporated icebreakers, skits, and videos to support discussions and create a fun environment. In this established comfortable atmosphere, the leaders encouraged questions, moments of reflection, and participants to share their stories with their peers as they got to know one another.
At night, the students were surprised with a bonfire and s'mores and spent the following day at the beach.
"We were all having fun and skipping rocks," says Barrows, who says that that moment at the beach was her favorite. "I love being present, and in that moment, I was present."
Psychology major Lisette Labbe '18 felt that her favorite part of the retreat was when the group opened up about their personal experiences as students of color at Saint Anselm.
"I would recommend this retreat to anyone," says Labbe. "The student leaders were great and it really opened people's perspectives to the lives of other students on campus. Along with gaining new perspectives I also gained new friendships and deepened old ones."
International business and computer science major Sybille Legitime '18 found it valuable not only to participate in the discussion on women of color but also to hear from male participant's perspectives as well.
"The Unity Retreat allowed me to get to interact on a deeper level with students I knew and with others that were formerly strangers to me," says Legitime. "I learned how diverse Saint Anselm student's backgrounds could be, and I wasn't expecting to learn that. I would warmly recommend any student, no matter the racial, socioeconomic or gender background to participate in that experience. Going to the Unity Retreat is extremely rewarding because not only do you get to know others a bit better through conductive exchanges, but you also get to self-reflect and grow from it."
Story by Lili Kane '16