About 20 students spent the weekend at the Trotter Multicultural Center learning more about themselves and the community around them.
Growing Allies, a program within the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, hosted the bi-annual retreat. The program seeks to aid students and faculty in understanding what it means to be an ally.
Leon Howard III, program manager for MESA, said being an ally has different definitions for different people, but generally defined it intervening or standing up against discrimination, rather than being a bystander.
Howard said the retreat gave participants the opportunity to engage with one another and expanded their perspectives.
“It is a space where people can learn and reflect on their identities and how they intersect,” he said. “They learn about how they relate to the experiences and identities of others. It’s a time of love for sharing, love for learning and expanding of perspectives.”
The retreat, which was free and open to any student, faculty or staff member who wanted to sign up, consisted of large and small group, among various other activities, and occurs once a semester.
Each retreat has two different themes to direct the topics of conversation. This year’s retreat focused on issues of race and class.
Rackham student Kao Yong Thao, an intern with Growing Allies, said the themes allow the groups to start conversation.
“Race is a constant within our curriculum, and we look at issues from the lens of race and ethnicity,” Thao said. “We see that as a springboard for conversation. That’s how we enter the conversation, through the lens of race, and then we allow other identities into the mix.”
Thao added that the retreat doesn’t just focus on verbal expression, but allows students to express themselves in other ways, too.
“We have some more experiential or interactive activities,” Thao said. “One activity we do involves participants using their bodies to demonstrate how they’ve experienced the day. We also have an art activity where we ask participants to reflect on their experiences in the retreat and develop an art piece.”
Attendees are able to sign up as participants or facilitators, who conduct the small group discussions throughout the weekend.
“We do a lot of experimental interactive activities that really try and get people to reflect and share their story,” Howard said. “The great thing about Growing Allies is that there are no experts or teachers here because we are all facilitators and experts in our own personal experiences. It’s all about sharing your story, sharing your experiences and hearing the experiences of others.”
LSA senior Alyssa Lopez, a student facilitator, said she the conversations held through Growing Allies are empowering and eye-opening.
“I think that working the cluster groups are the most rewarding because you get to have an in-depth conversation with a few other people and that really helps people to open up and share more,” Lopez said. “People usually feel more comfortable sharing more in smaller groups of people and you’re usually more frank in those situations.”
Spanish Lecturer Tatiana Calixto said the most rewarding part about Growing Allies is listening to others and understanding their stories.
“I say that after Growing Allies, I can see better because I’m more aware,” Calixto said. “I’m more aware of identities that may not be salient identities. I can be more aware of who my students are, I can read more into who my students are and I can create more inclusive environments in the classroom.”
While some attendance said they enjoyed the program, other participants said they wanted more people to join. Calixto said staff participation would help the University community grow and comprehend the many student identities on campus.
“I’ve noticed that we need to work more on why do we need inclusion and diversity,” Calixto said. “We can talk about tips, but that’s not enough, that’s the surface. We need to know deeply why there are students that are hurting, and why they need to be included in the big narrative of the University.”
The program attracts many students who are interested in social justice. However, Howard said the retreat is conducive to anyone.
“There are different levels of participation for different levels of understanding,” Howard said. “This makes it a great program that meets people where they are. People can choose what type of group they want to be involved with based on their level of comfort and understanding of what it means to be an ally.”