Five students and Alexis Palmer, director of the Volunteer and Service-Learning Center, packed up their belongings and headed out to a social justice retreat at the Snowbird Lodge and Resort during fall break.
Universities from all over the state who are members of the Utah Campus Compact met for this retreat. Utah Campus Compact is a nonprofit organization that helps train students twice a year on different issues concerning service; however, this year the theme was social justice.
The facilitators for this retreat were Tracy Healy, who is the program coordinator for Utah Campus Compact; George Emilio Sánchez, a performance artist, facilitator and professor at the College of Staten Island in New York; and Ben Nowell, a very successful Utah native, now based in New York, who graduated from Gonzaga University and has been in the business of facilitating trainings all over the country for the last 14 years.
“It was an excellent opportunity for students to really examine social justice from their perspective and to see what they can do at UVU. It was really one of the best conferences I’ve been to,” said Palmer.
Social justice means different things for different people, according to Service Council member Aryel Gladden.
“I think definitely with service it is more than just charity. It is more like lending out your hand, I mean, really doing it,” she said. “It is a step above that, hitting the issue at the core and improving it, bettering it, instead of just helping it.”
Miriam Abraham, another member of the service council agrees with Gladden.
“Coming to this conference has made me realize that there’s more to it, there’s deeper things to it, she said. “There’s respect for human rights, which includes respect for people who don’t believe the same things you believe, keeping a certain balance with that.”
The retreat was limited to five students per campus this year, but Healy said that opening it up to maybe 10-15 people will be a possibility next year. She was pleased with the results and all the projects the students came up with during the retreat.
“I said the results were great. I think we’ll always keep the social justice element in the background, but we may focus more on a theme and take it from different angles,” said Nowell.
Nowell was very satisfied with the results as well. He mentioned that a lot of good things are already happening with service in Utah, so he mostly focused on bringing more of the awareness of social justice issues, more of the inequalities that people are experiencing in the community and make that part of what students were thinking as they were planning and implementing the service projects.
“The results of the retreat exceeded my expectations and I think that they met all the objectives that I hoped would come from something like this,” Palmer said. “I was really impressed; I’ve been involved in conferences for students like these in terms of service, volunteerism, specific engagements and social justice for over ten years now and this is probably the best one I’ve seen.”