Spring 2009: Campus Beat
The Crossroads retreat builds confidence and trust among diverse freshmen
By Franchesca Winters 10C
Every August, more than thirty incoming freshmen form a line across a campsite in Covington. Their intertwined hands connect them like the budding friendships they have forged. A counselor reads a statement, such as: “I can walk down the street with my significant other without getting awkward stares from people.” Those who agree step forward; those who don’t step back. As the game progresses, the once-unified group is divided by the cards each student has been dealt in life.
The “race game” is a keystone activity of the Emory Freshmen Crossroads Retreat. “It’s a visual way of looking at privilege. At the end of the game, because people have taken so many steps forward or so many steps backward, . . . all of a sudden you’re looking at some things that happen in society that separate us,” says Marc Cordon 99C 00MPH, associate director of the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services (OMPS) and the chief coordinator of Crossroads.
Conceived by the OMPS and a group of students concerned about the state of interracial relations at Emory, the five-day-long pre-orientation program was initially dubbed the Emory Diversity Crossroads Retreat. Although Crossroads was designed to mirror the diversity of Emory’s student body, the retreat attracted mostly minority applicants in its first year and was quickly renamed to encourage participation by incoming freshmen of varied backgrounds.
Crossroads, which now boasts a wider array of participants and a second fall break retreat, strives to introduce students to the issues that accompany diversity. By helping students to recognize and appreciate cultural differences, the retreat also affords them the tools to unite people despite those inevitable divides. “We wanted students who went on this retreat to show an increase in cross-cultural competency,” Cordon says. “We just try to make people interaction all-stars.”
To achieve that goal, the Crossroads counselors foster a rapport with the group through ice breakers and name games before moving on to heavier topics. The second afternoon of the retreat is devoted to a ropes course where students slosh through mud, dive through giant rubber tires, and scale walls with the help of their companions. The physically demanding course inspires a sense of camaraderie among the participants and allows them to open up later that night at the race game. When the retreat returns to Emory on the third day, the group partakes in campus tours and continued bonding sessions that help familiarize them with the University. Ultimately, Crossroads carves a lasting impression within those who participate.
“The retreat gave me confidence and a willingness to trust and be open with my peers,” says Kate Stanley 10C, who attended Crossroads her freshman year.
Stanley, who is now involved with Sustained Dialogue, MORE, and the Unity Month Committee, was so inspired by the retreat that she chose to return to Crossroads as a counselor. “I wanted to be able to help the next set of freshmen . . . know that even in a huge community they had a place and an identity that was all theirs to create,” Stanley says.
Although the race game initially divides those who participate, it is the shared acknowledgment of differences that arises from this game and the retreat as a whole that ultimately gives Crossroads its unifying power. Immediately following the game, the participants form intimate circles where they divulge their stories and allow themselves, with the help of their newfound friends, to navigate emotional crossroads of their own.—