It doesn’t take long for those of us on the higher ed semester system to realize: late November and late April/early May are particularly stressful and difficult times for students.
Final papers and projects are about to be due, the extracurricular events they’ve been planning are finally coming to fruition, and whatever personal challenges they are juggling–whether it be family, events in the nation or in the friend group–just adds to the spiral.
This spiral begins to manifest itself in various ways, and often in very toxic or harmful ways particularly for marginalized student leaders. The spiral consist of various emotions and feelings that run the gamut from stress to depression. We have seen our students are plagued with asking themselves: Who am I?, Do I matter?, and Can I make a difference?
So this spring, we tried a new approach. Together we worked with therapists in our campus Counseling Center to design a Resiliency Retreat, focused particularly on leaders and activists in the student of color, feminist and LGBTQ communities. We agreed from the start that it had to be off campus, so we reserved a nearby conference center for our four-hour retreat on a Sunday.
Here’s how we framed it to our students:
“Are you a student leader and/or activist who focuses on issues of social justice? Do you feel mentally or emotionally exhausted or feel you might be soon? If yes, then this Retreat is for you! Resiliency is the ability to to bounce back from stress and adversity, and the goal of this Resiliency Retreat is to explore ways to support and sustain yourself in the work you do. There will be discussions, reflection writing, mindfulness exercises, and opportunities to deeply connect with others who are also passionate about social justice work. …And lunch!”
Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. It is known that a student’s level of resilience contributes more to their ability to successfully complete and succeed in college compared to other factors. Therefore, we must engage our students with opportunities in which they can build relationships and reflect on their path towards continued resilience (continued because many of our marginalized students have arrived on our campus having had to develop some resilience along the way).
In our experience working with students at a small, private, liberal arts predominantly white institution, many of the marginalized students leaders become leaders on our campus out of love, passion, and most importantly, survival. So how can we foster spaces that are more supportive and holistic for our students leaders that can often feel alone in passion, activism, and battle? The Resiliency Retreat was an offering that we think was one kind of those spaces and we encourage others to think about creating your own for activist students.