Rosa Chávez was a 17-year-old student from Southern Oregon when she attended her first New Student Fall Retreat, offered each year by the Center for Multicultural Academic Excellence, and the experience changed her life.
“It was probably one of the most amazing experiences I had in college,” she said. “It really, really made me feel like I was part of a community, that I wasn’t alone and that I belonged here on campus.”
Chávez is now the associate director of the center and helps organize and facilitate the New Student Fall Retreat. As it has for decades, the retreat offers an inviting space for students from diverse backgrounds to find resources and opportunities on campus, create strong social and academic connections, develop a strong sense of identity and leadership skills, and have fun.
This year, the center expects 40 new students, including transfer students, to attend the retreat, which takes place Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 at Camp Harlow in Eugene. Food, lodging and transportation are provided, and students are still able to register at no cost.
Lesley-Anne Pittard, the center’s co-director and assistant vice president of campus and community engagement for the Division of Equity and Inclusion, sees the annual event as a critical and exciting opportunity.
“The retreat is a great occasion for the Division of Equity and Inclusion to provide a gateway experience for new and transfer students to meaningfully connect with us, build community and to understand the culturally relevant resources we provide, ensuring we can best support students across their entire UO career,” Pittard said. “The retreat also focuses on leadership skill-building and identity development to help students advocate for themselves and others.”
The center’s Student Leadership Team does most of the facilitating at the retreat, including activities such as icebreakers, team-building competitions, creating team cheers, self-identity exercises, campfires and more. Student leaders also answer questions about what it’s like being a first-year college student, how to build and get support for your identity, and how to connect to UO resources. They help with serious concerns and questions and also provide lots of opportunities for fun, creativity and community.
To prepare, student leaders go through 10 weeks of intense diversity training during the spring quarter before the retreat.
“Our (student leaders) play a pivotal role in creating a positive experience for our retreaters,” said Jeffery Hall, the center’s retention programs coordinator. “Due to their illuminating experiences as current UO students, they ignite incipient qualities within our retreaters to become leaders in their academic and social networks.”
More than 25 years later, Chávez continues to see the positive effect the retreat has on students.
“The retreat lays the foundation for a lot of our students,” she said. “I see the impact with our students who are a first-generation college student, a student of color, a low-income student or an immigrant student. I think it’s really important to know that we all belong here at the UO and that the UO is for us. We’re meant to be here and we’re meant to make a difference in our communities.”
For more information or to sign up to attend the retreat, contact Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org
—By tova stabin, University Communications