The Next Step to justice

What is the meaning of social justice? How can it be attained?

Last weekend I participated in a social justice retreat, sponsored by Student Life, which taught students the meaning of social justice.

Next Step: A Social Justice Retreat is part of the Leadership & Civic Engagement program in Student Life.

An applicant group of 65 UVM undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty and staff were accepted.

The group spent the weekend at the Hulbert Outdoor Center in Fairlee, Vt.

In 2003, the first year of the program, participants had to be turned away because interest for the program was so high, according to the Next Step website.

The retreat included people from all different backgrounds who were united with the desire to learn more about social justice.

ÒI went to Next Step to further my understanding of social justice and to meet other people who strive towards a better campus, community and world,Ó first-year Angelica Crespo said.

Participants in the retreat spent the weekend absorbed in dialogues about race, gender, sexuality, religion, class and age.

We discussed socially constructed abuse and engaged in personal story sharing in a safe space, meaning what was said would not be repeated. We were free to share as much or as little as we wanted.

ÒThe inclusive atmosphere was the best thing about Next Step. It was truly a judgment-free zone,Ó sophomore Dylan Lettendre said.

Participants also split up into affinity groupsÑgroups of people who identified as being similarÑbased on race and gender.

Within the groups, we as the participants were able to discuss the meaning of our identities.

The retreat allowed the participants to better understand themselves and others. We explored our identities and our personal struggles with regard to social injustice.

ÒI gained a much better understanding of the identities that I hold and what it means to hold them, and the confidence to speak about social justice issues with others,Ó junior Emily Howe said.

The participants were enthusiastic about being there, senior Dani Greenwald said.

ÒI was moved by how eager everyone was to share, to learn, and to get to know each other and themselves on deeper levels,Ó Greenwald said.

ÒThe experience was exciting, eye-opening and motivational, pushing me to do all that I can to promote equality for all individuals at school and in the community,Ó first-year Nick DeMassi said.

Next Step pushed the participants outside of their comfort zones, DeMassi said.

We left the Hulbert Outdoor Center with new skills to strive for social justice and ready to enter a journey that, for some, has just begun.