The Center for Multicultural Services kicked off its three-day annual Diversity Retreat last Friday via Zoom with around 30 participants in all, including undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff.
The retreat, which consisted of panel discussions, interactive activities, videos and various exercises to keep participants engaged, was structured so that each participant could voice their opinions and share insights.
Misty Levingston, associate director of multicultural affairs, and Daniel Loera, director of multicultural affairs, were the main speakers and leaders of the retreat.
“We don’t ask people to enter as content experts, but as experts in their own lived life experiences,” Loera said.
The pandemic forced the retreat – with virtually all campus events and activities – online.
The leaders used breakout rooms for participants to speak with one-another about the various topics and themes.
Loera said that it is important now more than ever to hold a diversity retreat because of the current climate of racial injustice, and fears in the community, all exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which has disproportionately affected communities of color.
“I think about how the coronavirus affects people of color and the communities of color and marginalizes people in general more than it affects their white counterparts,” Levingston said.
She talked about how amid the pandemic, the country also experienced the murders of numerous people of color, and she also stressed the importance of these hard conversations about social justice.
Two of the interactive activities were the multiple identity exercise and the communication continuum exercise. The multiple identity exercise allowed users to use Jam Board, a platform where users are able to interact with each other with virtual Post-It notes, which they used to answer questions related to how they identify themselves.
Some of the identities that were on the board included: education, socioeconomic status, colorism, race, sexual identity, etc. Users would use those identities to answer questions like: which identity do you identify with the most, or which you identify the most at home or at school. This allowed users to relate with others and also see that their peers are different from each other.
The communication continuum exercise’s purpose was to discover how others communicate with different communication skills. Participants were asked to move their names to either “almost always,” “sometimes” and “almost never” for questions like “I think about the way I communicate” and “I am the first person to speak.” Some participants shared why they felt the way they did.
Marisela Gutierrez, a senior kinesiology major, attended the retreat, she said, because she felt that it was her duty to learn from others’ experiences and be part of a community fostering her own interest in social justice.
“I am consistently trying to learn and this retreat was a great starting point by understanding my own Leo community.” Gutierrez said. “I tend to get lost in world issues like sex trafficking, police brutality, and I feel incapable of creating change. Instead, I decided to focus on local issues and this retreat brought light to the injustices we face as a community, as well as mirrored onto my own city.”
After the retreat Gutierrez said she felt like she could teach others.
“In spite of the challenges we all face in our day-to-day lives, we are bigger than what we perceive our problems to be,’’ Gutierrez said. “If we are able to grow and take charge of our learning, whether it is listening to a social justice podcast (or) relating information to others, you are capable of greater change.”
Gabriella Cummings can be reached at email@example.com.