The Daily Illini

Retreat educates students in social justice

Cassidy Brandt

Cassidy Brandt

By Megan Bradley, Staff Writer

Students are being offered a two-day opportunity to get off campus and learn skills about social change and leadership.

The Organizing Change Student Leadership Retreat will take place Oct. 20-21 and is open to any student with an interest in creating change or exploring social justice issues. Students who participate in the retreat can enjoy a two-day experience for free.

The retreat is being held at the Eastland Suites in Urbana, where students will get to stay to foster relationships between like-minded individuals.

This year’s retreat will be comprised of students with varying experience levels in social change. Katie Richardson, senior in LAS, will attend the retreat this year. Richardson said the retreat is a chance to problem solve and to network with other students on campus.

“It allows inexperienced students who wish to promote social change to gain knowledge and advice from students with experience, which can help eliminate or ease the mystery surrounding how to effectively create change,” Richardson said.

Creating change is a skill that can make University students feel empowered when they take on their next class, internship or career. The retreat provides an opportunity for both uncertain and experienced students in the social change field.

It also allows students to become more familiar and understanding of other mindsets and identities their peers may possess.

Danielle Brown, graduate student in ACES, teaches a class on leadership theory, coaches students in the Leadership Certificate Program and facilitates I-programs for the Leadership Center. Brown will attend the retreat this year to connect with other students, faculty and staff who come from diverse backgrounds.

“I am always looking to improve my understanding of the identities, backgrounds and experiences of the individuals I am lucky enough to interact with in each of my positions,” Brown said. “Through my participation in this retreat, I am hoping to further develop my awareness and empathy of the students I work with.”

Whether students have an interest in leadership or not, the retreat can teach valuable skills.

Alex Gong, junior in Business, said she is interested in the retreat because it could offer her a way to connect with individuals, like herself, who are interested in leadership.

“I wanted to attend the retreat because it seemed fun to be somewhere overnight and would allow me to meet like-minded individuals and learn leadership and teamwork skills, which can be helpful in the future,” Gong said in an email.

The ability to incite change starts on an individual level, which is what facilitators of the retreat are aware of and are trying to foster a sense of in students. Richardson said in her future career she hopes to focus on issues that affect people globally and thinks the retreat will be a way for her to develop useful skills for her career goals.

“Although international relations can seem larger than life at times, the skills needed to address international issues are the same skills needed to address domestic or local issues,” Richardson said. “Oftentimes, it is about building relationships and truly understanding the issue and the community that the issue affects.”

Social change has a presence everywhere and students who attend this retreat will leave with the knowledge they may have previously lacked to invoke and participate in change.

The retreat is sponsored by the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations, University Housing, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, University YMCA and the YWCA. Each of these organizations brings a different perspective on important issues that will help students learn.

The University YWCA, where Richardson works, is already taking steps to foster social change, such as hosting dialogues and workshops.

“Our board is made up of a lot of new members, and while we have a strong desire to help promote social change in the community, we don’t always know how to best go about doing it.” Richardson said.

Students have the power and resources available to start social change movements, and with resources such as this retreat, they can be positively impacted to make a difference in the community.

The best resource the retreat offers students is a chance to connect with each other.

“I am excited to learn about challenges students face that I may not have experienced because of my identities and intersections,” Brown said. “I am interested in hearing diverse perspectives on the issues we are facing as a society and working together to discover solutions and catalyze change.”

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