Each semester, 25 University of Richmond students seeking to understand more about an “equitable society and campus community” participate in an off-campus retreat called enVision, which first started more than 8 years ago.
This semester, part one of the retreat will take place on Nov. 17-19, 2017, at a local retreat center.
EnVision is a two-part social-justice leadership retreat facilitated and designed exclusively by the UR faculty and Common Ground staff members. But, “when it first started, the program was very different from what it is now,” Lisa Miles, Associate Director of Common Ground, said. “Many years ago, the Allies Institute along with the Chaplaincy provided and hosted the retreat, but we [Common Ground] realized that we have the people and the expertise to design the program ourselves so that it is more customized for our students.”
Now, EnVision invites not only staff members from Common Ground to lead the retreat, but also faculty members from the Jepson School of Leadership Studies and alumni who have participated in the program in past years.
The students who attend EnVision show diversity in many aspects through race, gender, ethnicity, belief (both political and religious), sexual orientation and other ways.
“The only reason we have an application process is to have a diverse group so that no groups are overrepresented,” Miles said.
As the program specifically states, “No previous experience in studying these [social justice] issues are required,” the level of experience in students who attend is another diversity.
“I had been exposed to a lot of philosophy and thought on social justice issues, but had never engaged these issues through direct action,” junior Cory Schutter said.
The application process, just like the goal of the program, aims to bring together students who are ready and willing, “to connect with one another and delve deeper into different social issues.”
Although the retreat takes place in the thick of first semester, the students who come back from the trip comment positively on the experience.
“EnVision is like a crash course on social justice," Schutter said. “My big takeaway was that my vulnerabilities also represent my greatest strengths, and that I can embrace my identity to create more meaningful relationships and engagement.”
“Coming back to campus after a weekend away was a little bit of a shock,” Schutter said.
At an event that is at the pinnacle of heterogeneity and acceptance of diversity, there is a “bubble” — commonly associated with oblivion or disregard towards any matter outside one’s comfort zone — that is created. In this case, however, it is a bubble created by students who share the same values of social justice.
“I had gotten used to this little bubble where everyone held the same values and priorities and wanted to move towards a more just society," Schutter said.
The students in EnVision create an important reminder that there can only be social progress and reform when there is social injustice and unacceptance.
“It felt strange trying to fall back into the place where I was before,” Schutter said. “Feeling out how to interact with a larger campus and still keep these values I identified as a priority was something I learned to negotiate.”
Miles shared this sentiment.
“At the end of the trip, seeing growth among students who are excited to keep engaging and learning in social justice issues is what makes it all worthwhile,” Miles said.
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