Over fall break 2008, 19 students attended the second annual Transforming Privilege Retreat, funded by the Lilly Sustainability Grant through the Piper Center. Over the retreat, participants moved from exploring their identities and privileges on a personal level to the exploration of privilege on broader levels, and looked at concrete ways to build solidarity and make change. The retreat was facilitated by four student leaders, activist Julia Uleberg, and Piper Center staff members.
Sarah Melcher ’12, Mariella McLachlin ’11, & Aleta Kolan ’11
Journal during time for self-reflection. One theme of the retreat was vocational calling—reflecting on where our talents, abilities, skills, and passions fit into the world.
Michaela & Irene work together on a reflective project.
Students on the retreat reflected both on their personal identities
and on larger social structures relating to privilege and oppression.
A mask-making activity facilitated by Julia Uleberg helped
participants explore their own identities and passions, and having
them displayed throughout the retreat was a reminder to stay
grounded in these things.
The girls enjoy some down time on the retreat. Students formed
powerful and empowering friendships over the span of just two days.
Engrossing themselves in the mask-making project.
Retreat participants made masks as a part of the exploration of our own identities and our place in the world. One student reflected: “I think that it's impossible to see where we can be a catalyst for change in an unequal world if we don't first examine where we fit in that world.”
“My favorite part of the retreat was being able to talk about some of the problems that I come across at St. Olaf and hear other people's points of view on them. It was fun to meet with people that are involved in some of the issues that I'm interested in and see what they've done to make an impact on the community. This retreat was a great chance to reflect back on what is really important to me and how I can take those ideals and make an impact on the community.”
Edmund Babcock ‘11
“On this retreat I learned a lot about the degree to which I am oblivious to my privilege, which was at first sickening, but then motivating. It was motivating because it made me determined to make the most of the privileges I have. On this retreat I learned what things I can rely on when I go into the world that other people can't because of factors beyond their control, such as race or gender, but I also came to have greater faith in the power of a small group of people (or one person) to change things, if only because of there are people who would take part of their break to talk about important issues like this.”
Irene Lawrence ‘11
Many times I find my pull toward social action stymied by my responsibilities as a student. My education is important, especially because the knowledge and development I gain will enable me to serve better after graduation. Still, it frustrates me to feel as though I'm putting the more essential parts of life on hold. What I learned from discussion and reflection on the Transforming Privilege Retreat was that the line between student and activist does not need to be as distinct as I usually perceive it to be.
Elspeth Keables ‘11
The transforming privilege retreat was a helpful reminder of the advantages many of us are granted in society. By meditating on my own experiences with privilege, and analyzing the existing privilege at St. Olaf as well as in a larger social context, I feel more focused to work towards a more equal society.
Kelly Harrington ‘10
The retreat was very empowering. It was a time to find others with similar interests in social justice and change and turn our energy into action. In our crazy busy world at St. Olaf it was very worthwhile to take time to talk about privilege, as we are surrounded by privilege but take little time to acknowledge it.
Anne Steeves ‘10