Spring 2018 brings retreat options to NEIU students

Amy Buscemi, writer

On the weekend of Jan. 26, NEIU student were treated to a cost-free overnight retreat in Lake Geneva Wisconsin, where they spent over 24 hours getting to know themselves and each other; their differences and similarities.  

The outing, known as the Spectrum Social Justice Retreat 2018, was designed by chaperone and Director of Student Leadership Development Veronica E. Rodriguez.

It provided students with two full days of activities, challenging them to recognize their societal blind spots, share their backgrounds and experiences, and create bonds with other students they might not otherwise have had the opportunity to.

The retreat is called to embrace the array, or “spectrum,” of different identities which exist within the NEIU community and society as a whole. Rodriguez said she believes “social justice is an important piece of leadership,” and attributes this to her education in social justice at Loyola University.

The event’s attendance consisted of an array of ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations, something that Rodriguez said was a goal of making choices on attendees.

The retreat participants included 17 NEIU students of various majors and three members of NEIU’s Student Leadership Development team. They stayed at George Williams College where they were set up with accommodations that included hotel style lodging, unlimited snacks, a buffet style dinner and three buffet-style meals on Saturday.  

The attendees, some of whom it was their first time leaving Chicago, assumed the amenities would be dorm style but found themselves staying in pairs with a full-size bed for each student and personal showers in each room.  

The GWC campus is located right on the currently frozen-over Lake Geneva, which gave students the opportunity to escape the bustle of city life and venture to a more tranquil environment in which to focus, learn and relax.  

The workshops were held right down the hall from the rooms. Attendee Yadira Alonzo said, “I loved the location, such a beautiful and peaceful place to have a retreat. The accommodations were amazing!”

Although the vacation aspect of the trip was a huge draw for students, what they would learn throughout the retreat would be the biggest takeaway.

Another attendee, Vanessa Beganovic said, “I left feeling enlightened by the different realities my peers shared with me and inspired to continue learning more about these realities.”

The most emotion-provoking activities for the group included two circle style icebreakers, one in which students were challenged to step inside the circle of their peers when they identified with a statement. Statements ranged from ones about social values, family systems and economic status to much more personal statements that opened truths.  

Rodriguez also noted that those involved in the Leadership Pathways Program in Fall 2017 got choice priority, as they work on achieving the final steps towards completing their Pathways Leadership Certification.

The Leadership Pathways Certificate Program is a free, eight-week leadership course at NEIU offered every Fall and Spring semester which invites students to explore critical thinking surrounding leadership, change and perspectives.  Once students complete the eight-week course, they are required to complete two additional SLD hosted events in which to receive their Leadership Pathways Certification and be recognized at the LEAD Reception.

Although the retreat piloted in 2012, this was only the third one that NEIU has hosted, with the second in 2013. Rodriguez attributes this to the budget cuts the university recently faced in addition to staffing changes, both of which caused its elimination from SLD’s priority list.  She said she was determined to make it happen this year and plans to do it again next year.  

In addition to this retreat, others will be offered by SLD this year. April will host a new senior retreat, it hopes to give graduating seniors time to escape and focus on their future.

Rodriguez said resume and network-building style workshops could potentially be some of the focuses for the senior retreat.  The idea to hold a senior retreat was based on previous retreats done for incoming freshmen.  

The senior retreat is being organized by Rae Joyce Baguilat, assistant director to Rodriguez, who assisted in the Spectrum Social Justice Retreat.  Maria Genao-Homs, director of SLD, was a facilitator of this year’s Spectrum Social Justice Leadership Retreat.

When asked what she wants students to take away from the experience, Rodriguez said, “One, is that they made a new friend, or a new connection, or a new understanding. Sometimes you want all these bigger grandiose things, but it’s the little things that are important. A lot of learning can take place just from hanging out with each other late at night.”

Rodriguez hoped that students achieved a better understanding of who they are through the experience. She mentioned one of her favorite things about the retreats is watching students that might not have been fond of each other build a strong bond.

If you are a current NEIU student that might be interested in future retreats or other leadership opportunities offered at NEIU, stop by the Pedroso Center and ask to speak to one of the Student Leadership directors.