Discrimination dissected at Race Culture Retreat

Alex's Place hosted the annual Race Culture Retreat last week. —MV Times file photo

By Rose Engler

The annual Race Culture Retreat was a life-changing experience for many of the students and faculty who attended. The retreat is a mix of intense discussions about discrimination — based on anything from race to sexual orientation to family income — and lighthearted group activities.

Senior Mary Morano said, “By sharing experiences and viewing them from different perspectives, I developed a new appreciation of my fellow students. Through this type of exercise, you experience a broader-based perception of those around you.”

This year’s retreat took place last week at Alex’s Place at the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard, and lasted two days. On Wednesday and Thursday, 40 students, six student facilitators, and seven faculty advisors came together to participate. A handful of students who have already participated in the retreat returned this year as senior facilitators.

Madison Moreis, senior facilitator, said, “My first year I laid low and observed, because the discussions at the Race Culture Retreat are a lot to take in. During my second year, I was more involved, and I had to do the very famous fishbowl discussion. My second year ended up being significantly different.” The fishbowl discussion is where two people sit in the center of a circle and talk about times they have been discriminated against and discriminated against other people.

Preparing for this and similar exercises in the retreat was a lengthy and complicated process involving rehearsals and mental preparation. Madison said, “It took some rehearsing to prepare for the fishbowl discussion, because it is a sensitive and difficult discussion for some people. Prepping for me was thinking of times when I’ve discriminated, been prejudiced, and when I’ve been a part of the problem; everyone has been these three things before, so the facilitators had to dig deep into tough times, which was a challenge for all of us.”

It was a challenge, perhaps, but one which would help all the students at the retreat, as the individuals in the fishbowl came to terms with the sensitive topics, and are now able to share their knowledge with the rest of the school. The participants cannot share specific details about what was talked about during the retreat, but the purpose is to bring back better listening and leadership skills and a greater awareness to the school community.

The retreat has a different impact on each student. Junior Kat Roberts said, “I expected the retreat to be more focused on racism, but instead it was about all types of discrimination. I learned that although people may seem like they are different, a lot of people are going through the same issues.”

Senior Juniper Ezanno said, “While participating in the retreat, the faculty advisors and students were all equivalent in terms of power. This created a safer environment, and hearing their stories as a peer instead of as a member of the faculty helped me relate to them on a deeper level, ultimately demanding a deeper respect for the adults in the school. They are people too.”

The retreat had lasting impacts. Many students wish to participate next year as senior advisors. Kat said, “I hope to go on this retreat again next year so that I can be a leader as a senior, and make the experience for next year’s group as memorable and influential as this year’s seniors made it for me.”

Students pointed out one area for improvement in the retreat’s impeccable organization: Kat said, “I just wish that there were more people that got the opportunity to go on this retreat.”

Juniper agreed. She said, “I strongly believe every student and faculty member of this school should be granted the opportunity to participate in such an event. I do not think it should be invitation-based, but instead should be available to the entire school. It would bring us closer as a community. After the retreat, I feel as if I have gained 57 people whom I can confide in. Everyone deserves that.”