Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Retreat 1 of 1

(This is a collection of my experiences from training. Start at the beginning for more information.)

Our Hall Staff retreat was phenomenal. We ventured up into the mountains near Petaluma—a camp site called the Walker Creek Ranch, after an early morning bus ride at 8am Sunday morning, and returned promptly by 5pm Monday. Interspersed between diversity sessions with our Unit 1 staff (30 staff members) and with the entire amalgam of Berkeley hall staffs (~150 students and directors) lay the coveted reward of free time, spent by most of us at a nearby lake called Turtle Pond, where swimming, canoeing, and sun bathing were well represented.

During the day, one could visually witness the lake, the hike leading up to the lake, and the creek that fed off from the lake, but a nighttime hike, without the distractions afforded by the sun, was required to fulfill this experience. At one point along the path to Turtle Pond, through descents and inclines, foliage and waterways, there lay a giant clearing of soft terrain granting unhindered movement, where in the dark you literally felt as if you could simply diffuse out into the great and wild nothingness that surrounded you, with one long exhale. Memories overcame me at this time, where I was reminded of the important exchanges I shared at the same training retreat of last year. I remembered the smell, the taste of the air, the subtle glow of the nightlights from camp that illuminated a distant part of the forest in front of us.

These feelings flowed through my body like blood, pulsing a course that was designed to reinforce the trust I had built with this place a year ago; hall staff took much learning and self-discovery away from last year’s retreat and consequently this recent trip had a lot to live up to, which it did. This atmosphere, this developed sense of trust, solidified from experiences a year prior and over the last week with a new dedicated staff, engendered the perfect environment for further discovery and self-awareness.

We encountered a laundry list of activities that broadened our perspectives, the first being an open discussion about dominant and subordinated groups in society. A key aspect we addressed at training was furthering an understanding of our individual backgrounds and biases, an understanding of these groups salient to such a topic.

As members of the US society, we are categorized by society in the media, workplace, and government, within dominant (“normal”) or subordinate (targeted) groups of diversity including, but not limited to: ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, and sexuality. Our membership in these diversity groups is decided unconsciously by the system we live in and by our genetic material, which makes consciously becoming aware of these divisions a necessary task. However, consciously choosing to deny one’s identity and group membership does not make it so: as an example, a wheelchair-user who believes he or she is dominant, or “normal”, in terms of ability because of a prowess to take care of him/herself does not compensate for the fact that wheelchair-accessible routes are few and far to come by, that laws were required to build this paucity of routes and change access standards, and that roads and buildings typically have been and are currently designed to appeal to a public that can walk, i.e. the dominant, functioning group. Here, the perception of a dominant trait contrasts with the reality of the targeted group situation.

As a short breather and activity, attempt to define what groups you identify with in terms of each of the above eight features of diversity, both in the eyes of yourself and in light of the system. Compare your own perceptions versus the truth in relation to society: before and after this activity, how aware were you of your own dominance and subordination? What group are you most and least comfortable identifying with, both confidentially and to others? And did this activity elicit any particular response from you?

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