Incoming and transfer students from underrepresented backgrounds enrich connections and discover resources through the New Student Fall Retreat.
New students and returning student leaders from underrepresented groups kicked off the “back to in-person” term with a weekend of community building at Camp Harlow, located at the northern edge of Eugene. The New Student Fall Retreat, or NSFR, helps students to connect with their peers, strengthen relationships, and explore opportunities offered at the University of Oregon.
This year, the three-day retreat included team-building exercises, a faculty panel and an information fair tabled by various university departments and offices. Staff members from the Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence (CMAE), Multicultural Center (MCC), and Accessible Education Center (AEC) also attended to offer advice, information on diverse campus resources and more.
The retreat began the Friday of the first week of classes when students boarded a bus to Camp Harlow. They got acquainted with their small groups, or squads, and the student leaders. Multicultural academic counselors from CMAE facilitated evening activities and a retreat introduction.
Norma Trefren and Sugam Singh, CMAE academic counselors, helped the student leaders plan the retreat and ensure it went smoothly. Both counselors were instrumental in supporting the students, faculty and staff present at the retreat."
“Although it has changed over the years, the one thing that remains constant is what the New Student Fall Retreat stands for,” Singh said. “A lot of students come in from different cultural backgrounds and they’re trying to find themselves. The weekend is a chance for them to not only find other students who identify with similar backgrounds, but a chance to reflect on where they are coming from, what their values are and what cultural histories they would like to explore.”
On Saturday morning, the students worked together to navigate a low ropes course and then participated in active squad competitions. From the earliest part of the day to late into the evening, students, faculty and staff were engaged in discussions and conversations, getting to know one another and talking about what student success looks like at the UO.
Saturday’s programming culminated in contemplative activities and a campfire that brought everyone together. During these intimate moments, students connected over shared personal experiences and found a collective sense of belonging within the group.
For many attendees, the campfire was one of the most memorable moments of the retreat. Following an evening of meaningful conversations, participants and their student leaders were excited to come together and express how they felt about the experience.
“We have these cool color packets that represent different feelings,” said Jaya Das, one of the student leaders. “When we’re having the discussion, we put our feelings into the fire and they burst into colorful flames.”
Team building activities resumed Sunday morning before the retreat attendees returned to campus in the afternoon.
Zuri Brown, a junior majoring in psychology, developed strong connections with her peers over the course of the retreat.
“After attending the New Student Fall Retreat, I felt a strong sense of community that I had not experienced on campus,” Brown said. “During the retreat, I met amazing people that I am lucky to call my friends. I would recommend this retreat to anyone interested.”
Paying it forward
From the team activities to the reflective conversations, each part of the retreat is planned by the Student Leadership Team. The team is a group of dynamic and passionate undergraduate students who plan and facilitate the retreat, many of whom attended the retreat during their first year at the UO.
Student leaders are selected the spring prior to the New Student Fall Retreat and participate in a 10-week training program to discover more about their own identities and develop skills to lead a group of their peers during the retreat.
This year’s cohort was composed of seven students who brought a variety of experiences and ideas to the retreat.
Jaya Das first heard about the retreat during her sophomore year, while at the CMAE. “I was curious about it and found out that it was a retreat for freshman and incoming transfer students,” Das said. “I was really bummed that I didn’t go my freshman year, so I decided that the only way I could go was to be a leader.”
Jose Huato attended the retreat in 2018 before returning this year to serve as a student leader. To him, it is an experience that can last beyond the boundaries of Camp Harlow.
“I hope that they don’t hesitate to reach out to their fellow retreaters and also to us,” Huato said. “When they see us on campus, I want them to know that they can reach out to us. I’m here as a resource for them.”
Sharon Sherpa also found her experiences on the Student Leadership Team to be particularly empowering.
“I think that this is an amazing experience to gain a lot of leadership skills and learn more about yourself as well,” Sherpa said. “I gained new experiences that will help me grow as a person, and was able to surround myself with a positive community as well. Overall, I’ve had a very positive experience with CMAE and I would recommend that students come back as leaders.”
Sharon Sherpa (center) participating in her squad’s introduction during the 2019 New Student Fall Retreat.
Some of this year’s students will likely be next year’s student leaders and the cycle will continue moving students towards community and success.
As a freshman, Kat Sincuir attended the retreat and found the experience to be beautiful and powerful. Attending the retreat a second time as a student leader, she hoped to support other students in having as great of an experience as she had.
“One of the things I liked about the University of Oregon when picking a school was how welcoming it was,” Sincuir said. “I was very lucky to be able to bump into Rosa [Chavez, CMAE associate director], who told me to sign up [for the retreat]. And in the end, it was honestly one of the best decisions of my life. I felt so connected and understood. I made friends who I am still connected with today.”
Meet the 2021-22 Student Leaders
Angel Escorcia Nuñez
A 30-year legacy
As the longest-running program on campus, the New Student Fall Retreat predates other projects with similar goals such as the First-Year Interest Groups and Academic Residential Communities. Community-building opportunities like the retreat are important because they help students feel connected to the campus and university community early in their collegiate journey.
Rosa Chavez, associate director for CMAE, attended the retreat as an undergraduate in 1991. After earning her bachelor and law degrees from the University of Oregon, Chavez has come back full circle to help new students feel supported as they navigate the retreat and their time at the University of Oregon.
"The retreat was one of the most memorable events of my four years of college, and it's been 30 years," Chavez said. "I'm glad that I was able to go to the retreat as a student and come back to see the legacy this program has created."
For many students, engaging in conversations about personal challenges helps them feel supported and empowered as they navigate through obstacles common to the college experience. Concerns about financial barriers and feelings of imposter syndrome often lead students to believe that success is out of their reach.
"Almost every student has these doubts, but a lot of times underrepresented students feel like they're on their own in figuring this out," Chavez said. "These conversations are difficult, but students really find out that they're not alone here and that they have each other to connect with as a support system."
The New Student Fall Retreat is one of several annual programs to support student community building and leadership development. To learn more about the programs or help support them, visit the links below. Information about next year's retreat will be posted on the Division of Equity and Inclusion website during spring term.