On Friday afternoon I put the kiddo down for his nap, pulled together my stuff, and trundled on over to meet up with my fellow faculty and staff members headed to the LGBTQA+ student retreat here. The retreat is over a decade old, but the director leading it is new as of the last two years, and some of the general programming, along with the overall level of other faculty/staff involvement (ie. people like me) was a shift from past iterations. The retreat was held at a YMCA camp overlooking the Mississippi River (which I didn’t spend much time looking out at thanks to the cold, and the full schedule), and while the spaces were pretty basic, they worked out well for the group of over 60 students and a dozen faculty/staff that came along with. This was my first time going, but given my experience, I’m pretty confident it won’t be my last.
Friday started out with a chunk of us faculty and staff folks arriving at camp early to get things set up. Of the group a little more than half decided to come down for the whole weekend (like me), while a number opted to drive down just for Saturday’s activities in the daytime. I knew the two leading the retreat, but aside from an initial orientation conversation, I hadn’t really interacted at all with the rest of the faculty/staff along for the ride (as it turns out, spending a weekend together in a cabin is a great way to get to know folks, and this was a pretty cool group, so I was glad I made that decision). We unpacked lots of snacks, pads of paper, and assorted stuff, and then shared a dinner together. It was plenty dark by the time the student bus arrived, but the students’ arrival brought plenty of energy into the space. We had some initial ice breakers/introductions, launched into a bigger discussion around group agreements for the weekend, and then finished the evening off with a bunch of game stations that all the students rotated through. I laughed through a number of rounds of Pictionary before we faculty/staff folks headed back to our lodge to sleep.
Saturday morning, with the temperatures starting to drop we made our way over to the dining hall for a french toast breakfast. The student numbers were a little sparse at first, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that they filled out towards the end of the hour, and by the first of the morning meetings at 9am it appeared we had pretty much everyone in attendance. Saturday morning and early afternoon consisted of a mix of larger and smaller group discussions. As a larger group we did some exercises around identity and perception, talked about intersectional identity issues, and then about the broader campus climate around LGBTQA+ identities and issues. Smaller group time was spent in individual identity groups talking. As a faculty and staff group we got to talk a lot about the lack of an active faculty staff group on campus, and the possibility of starting that process along with grappling with some of the bigger questions of where our institution is not doing as well as we would like, and the challenge of trying to navigate our own identities (and find community) within this space.
Later in the afternoon a number of additional folks arrived to lead sessions - a genderqueer poet, a pair of drag performers, and one of the founders of a queer zine archive project. The students broke out into groups which split time between presenting some history/context, and allowing them to take part in actually creating things. I floated around all of the spaces for most of the afternoon taking some pictures, and it was pretty fun watching all of the students engaging and taking everything in. I dove in to the zine making a bit, because I knew the presenter, and had a good time doing some cutting/pasting work (even if it was kind of hastily pulled together). After all the creative groups finished there was dinner, and then a short little open mic where people could share what they had worked on. After that, the rest of us staff folks once again headed back to the lodge. With the early departures of the Saturday daytime folks we wound up with a group of 5 of us left, but had a great time sitting around the gas fireplace and chatting about all sorts of things.
Sunday morning was a chance to do a little final group discussion/reflection, and then we mostly just packed everything up (trying our best not to freeze in the subzero weather), and then made the trek back home.
It was a busy weekend, but wow, it was a lot of fun. (And I took a bunch more pictures, but out of respect for individual’s privacy, I’m just sharing these few).
On a personal level it was really rewarding to be able to connect more than just in passing with both other LGBTQA+ staff here, as well as to have some time with this group of students. It was interesting reflecting on my own personal identity over the course of the various conversations, and thinking about those points of tension and how they relate with the challenges other have faced. It was great to be able to dig in to some really complex issues, to hear struggles, and think about a lot of the things that I write about on here within this different framework. Oh, it didn’t hurt that a bunch of people complimented various pieces of my outfits every single day I was there. And, I never tire of seeing someone having an ‘eureka!’ moment when it comes to their own identity (I witnessed at least a few of those over the course of the weekend). More than anything else, there was just a lot of power and affirmation in being a part of this space and community - even if it was just for a weekend.
I can’t wait to go back next year.