On February 14-16, 2020, 53 women of color undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, as well as around 10 faculty, staff, and guest speakers spent the weekend taking over the Burr Oak State Park Lodge for the Leadership Initiatives for Women of Color's 2020 We Are One Women of Color Retreat. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion sponsored all the students' bus transportation, rooms at the lodge, and meals for the entire weekend as well as co-sponsored goodie bags with The College of Social Work that had empowering valentines, conference badge holders, chapsticks, make-up, and other small items to enhance the weekend experience. Participants in the retreat were greeted on Friday at the Lodge by staff who checked them into their rooms, gave them t-shirts, and a table of snacks that included granola bars, fruit, chips, candy, and waters for everyone to choose from to keep around over the course of the weekend. The first night of the retreat the women spent time relaxing and getting acquainted with roommates and other retreat members through ice breaker games before a welcoming message from Dr. Shivers, Vice President for Student Life, and Yolanda Zepeda, Assistant Vice Provost for ODI. The retreat ended the first night on dinner together and a guest speaker, Professor Christmas, who spoke about her experience being the only African American faculty member at her college.
Early risers for the second and third days of the retreat had the option to participate in 7 a.m. yoga with Ivory Douglas-Levert. Others who slept in joined everyone else for breakfast before starting sessions on Racial Battle Fatigue, a Leadership Panel, and Leading with your Story – session organized and facilitated by the planning committee students. After having lunch, participants had the option to participate in a fast-paced workout with Ashley Pryor or engage in self-care crafts before coming back together for a session on taking care of your mind as a leader. Graduate students and undergraduate students then had an opportunity to split up for professional development sessions on writing your CV or writing your resume and elevator pitch, respectively, facilitated by Dr. Jacquelyn Meshelemiah, and Katherine Betts and Madison Eagle. Finally, after all sessions had ended and participants had dinner together, the second night of the retreat ended on a talent and fashion show, where participants in the retreat had the opportunity to create their own outfits from fabric and supplies provided by the retreat and compete for a total of nine $25 gift cards. Though the fashion show and talent show were over, students stayed in the meeting room and enjoyed karaoke, linedancing, and bonding time until they returned to their rooms.
The final day of the retreat, all participants were asked to wear their retreat t-shirts – a black v-neck with the Leadership Initiatives for Women of Color logo on the front, and the words “As I Am” on the back. Bryanna Stigger and Dariah Williams led a craft session on Sunday where participants could create vision boards, color, or just take time to unwind from a fast-paced weekend. Finally, Dr. Jacquelyn Meshelemiah gave the final presentation on avoiding “emotional vampires” and taking care of your whole self as a leader before the retreat closed on a panel feedback session with the planning committee. Students stated they felt it was a great opportunity to meet other women of color, enjoyed getting to know faculty in a relaxed setting, expressed gratitude for creating a space for women to be vulnerable and share on uncomfortable topics, and wished the weekend could be longer. The weekend was a time for community building, professional, academic, and emotional connections, and a space for women of color to be completely themselves.
Leadership Initiatives for Women of Color plans to continue to have the WOC retreat every spring.