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ISSUE 121 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/7/2008

Retreat urges changes

By Monica Southworth
Staff Writer

Friday, March 7, 2008

Last weekend, 40 students hopped in a few vans and headed to Good Earth Village, an environmental retreat center to discuss the privileged lives many St. Olaf students have. The retreat was called, "Transforming Privileges: Ideals to Action."

The retreat was designed for Oles by Oles. The program began on Friday evening, opening up the 24-hour retreat with participants sharing their inspirations and reasons for attending. Answers varied from curiosity to being pestered by friends to having the desire to live a more sustainable life.

"I thought it was a great retreat, and all the feedback has been very positive," said Nate Jacobi of the Center for Experiential Learning. "A lot of students feel that it was a very meaningful experience and they appreciated the reflection that happened. Some students said they had a sense of renewal and hope for their efforts of social activism and change."

The program focused on building stronger relationships with other Oles regarding diversity issues, environmental sustainability and social justice concerns. Those on the retreat also focused on how to utilize their relative privilege to enact positive change on campus, in communities, and at home.

The retreat was lead by Alejandra C. Toba Alatriz, a nonviolence trainer with the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Minneapolis. Alatriz guided the various students through discussing campus problems and how to enact possible solutions.

One event focused on the production and consumption of products. Alatriz showed a short video detailing a simplified five-step process of production and consumption. It began with the harvest of raw materials, production of products, marketing and distribution, consumption into the homes and the disposal of the waste afterwards. The video encouraged viewers to recycle, support policies that would help improve sustainable lifestyle, and to reevaluate associated societal norms. Students then discussed the film and considered how to bring the message to campus.

The last portion of the retreat examined how students can take their short experience at the retreat and implement it on campus. Suggestions included small lifestyle changes such as eliminating bottled water on campus to developing a continuous dialogue with the administration and SGA dedicated to examining and enacting positive change.

The weekend helped foster relationships that would "develop an increased capacity to act as allies and agents of anti-oppressive change" in daily lives. Alatriz also had the group focus on gaining perspective in their lives, goals and dreams.

"It was very beneficial to have so many groups represented with different passions come together and see the synergy and the community development that happened," Jacobi said.

Alatriz told the group that you can't help others unless you know where you yourself stand. She helped students identify what motivates them, and the people they look up to. In an e-mail, Alatriz is described as "an antiracist cultural designer, organizer, and nonviolence trainer with the Fellowship of Reconciliation's Peacemaker Training Institute." She grew up under the dictatorship in Chile, and she actively works in grassroots campaigns focused on "nonviolence, race, class, impacts of globalization, human rights, effects of militarized domestic and foreign policy, art and revolution and radical relationship-building." She serves on the Board of Common Fire, a foundation advocating creating housing co-ops and community building.

The planning initially began in early November and came out of a conversation with the Justice House and later the Diversity Awareness House, Jacobi said.

"Because of all the positive feedback, we're hoping to offer another in the future" Jacobi said.

The retreat was organized by Jacobi in the CEL, the Cooperative Justice house and the Diversity Awareness house. The program was paid for by the Lilly Lives of Worth and Service Program.

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