At the UO, as across the country, we have had to face a renewed reckoning around issues of race and inequality. We know the work of creating a more inclusive and antiracist community is a continuous journey. Each month, these pages will highlight some of the work being done and the resources available here on campus. We hope these efforts act not as a token, but as a turnkey to help open doors for those to come.
Student Leadership Team Creates Bonds and Opportunities
Participants in the rewarding program are key organizers of the New Student Fall Retreat for those from underrepresented backgrounds
By tova stabin, University Communications
Students come from cities and towns in Oregon, Washington, California, and Hawaii; Texas, Florida and Mississippi; Ghana and Nepal. Their majors range from biology, Indigenous, race and ethnic studies, accounting, international studies, and family and human services to Japanese, computer science, Spanish, sociology, Latinx studies, and more.
What they all have in common is a desire to be leaders at the UO and in their communities. And all are members of the Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence’s Student Leadership Team.
The leadership team is a group of dynamic and passionate undergraduate students who devote time and energy throughout the year to serve their fellow students. Team members volunteer their time to plan and lead workshops, discussions, and activities for the annual New Student Fall Retreat, which provides opportunities for first year and transfer students from underrepresented backgrounds to create new friendships, learn about campus resources and services, and engage with students, faculty, and staff
Leadership team members undergo ten-week intensive diversity training in preparation for organizing the retreat and their year-long leadership roles. During the training, they develop skills to lead a group of their peers during each part of the retreat. They learn about intersectional issues, leadership development, fostering difficult conversations, and conflict resolution. Along the way, they learn about themselves.
Sharon Sherpa, a class of ’23 business major, attended the fall retreat during her freshman year at the UO and found community. “I used to hide certain things about myself and my cultural identity,” said Sherpa, a first-generation American who belongs to the Sherpa ethnic group of Nepal. “But being a part of this community has encouraged me to embrace my background.”
Sherpa’s time at the retreat made her consider joining the leadership team. “My positive experience as a student at the retreat inspired me to join SLT so I can continue creating valuable experiences and community for other students,” she said. “I want to continue to inspire other students to be proud of their identity and create a welcoming community.”
She believes the ten-week course gave her “the opportunity to explore my leadership abilities in various ways while also empowering others around me.”
Sherpa will return to the Student Leadership Team next year. Still others—Nastaran Milani, Jaya Dass, and Jesse Dunn—are graduating.
They agree that in addition to an opportunity to gain confidence, the Student Leadership Team offered an essential peer-to-peer learning and mentoring experience from the beginning of their college career to the end—one that will propel them into their lives beyond the UO.
Nastaran Milani, a biology and psychology major still feels close to the leaders and “retreaters” from her first New Student Fall Retreat.
Milani’s advice to incoming students is to “remember you are not alone and believe in yourself. If you have confidence in your own abilities, then you’re more likely to overcome the challenges and obstacles that you may face. Although the transition to college may be overwhelming, there are so many resources that can help you during the journey.”
Milani also said it helps to get involved. “Taking part in on-campus activities is a great way to meet new people, gain incredible volunteer experience, and learn a thing or two about yourself.”
Sugam Singh, multicultural academic counselor and Asian, Desi and Pacific Islander retention specialist, and Norma Trefen, multicultural academic counselor and Native American student retention specialist, are staff members in the Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence. Both work with the Student Leadership Team and are excited to see what the future will bring for these students.
“It has been an absolute honor to work with the Student Leadership Team since 2020,” Trefen said. “Watching students grow, step into their own leadership roles, and seeing how that leadership spreads across campus has been absolutely heartwarming,” she said. “I can’t wait to see and hear what our graduating SLT members will do in their communities.”
Visit these resources—a small sampling of the many on campus—for ways to listen, learn, and act in the fight for social justice