Students 'who value social justice' offered privilege retreat

Northeastern University plans to host a three-day retreat where students will have the opportunity to discuss and learn strategies on how to combat power and privilege.

The “DISMANTLE Retreat: Deconstructing Power and Privilege” will require students to learn “to do the work of resisting oppressive power dynamics,” and is open to “ALL students, regardless of identity,” because “most of us have privileges that we benefit from.”

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“Identifying the presence and impact of privilege can be challenging for those to whom privileges are granted because it is often seen as ‘the norm,’” an online description for the event states. “It is sort of like asking a fish to notice water or birds to discuss air.”

During the  retreat, students will discuss their past experiences to understand and recognize their privilege—which organizers define as “an unearned advantage or exemption from duty as a special benefit or favor based on someone’s social identity group membership”— while also working to “challenge convention and develop astute observations about society.”

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During the retreat, participants will travel around the Boston area to “explore how privilege manifests in diverse neighborhoods” and examine its “disparate impact on our fellow community members.”

The retreat advertises itself as an opportunity for “build community with peers who value social justice and inclusion,” as well as to “develop knowledge and strategies to contribute toward a more equitable society.”

Although the annual retreat, which has been held since 2015, claims to be “open to ALL students,” applicants are expected to complete a questionnaire revealing their own experiences with privilege, such as selecting “an artifact or a brief observation that embodies your perspective or captures your attention to privilege.”

Other questions ask prospective participants to describe “the most significant ways in which privilege has impacted your own personal experience,” prompt them to provide a list of preferred pronouns, and even to identify “as many social identities or roles” as they feel “comfortable sharing,” and to explain how such identities have “impacted” them.

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The application also asks students to disclose their preferred environments for processing “new and challenging” information, such as drawing, listening to music, enjoying alone time, or having objects on a table.

Students who attended last year’s retreat required were required to “take an inventory of their privileges,” with one tweet from the event showing that students were presented with a list of privileges enjoyed by “cisgender” people, such as “using a public restroom” with no stress or not having strangers “assume they can ask me questions about my genitals.”

The annual retreat is a “collaborative Northeastern offering” sponsored by Northeastern’s Honors Program, Social Justice Resource Center, Office of Institutional Diversity & Inclusion, LGBTQA Resource Center, Northeastern Crossing, and Center for Student Involvement.

Campus Reform reached out to the organizers of the retreat for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @ShanGolden