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Belles to embark on Catalyst Trip

Osberger, Megan | Friday, October 14, 2005

As most students look forward to a week of relaxation, others are preparing to see women leaders at work in the community and to learn how to work for change during the upcoming fall break.

The fourth annual Catalyst Trip sponsored by Saint Mary’s Center for Women’s Intercultural Learning (CWIL) will leave Saturday with a goal to enrich and enlighten its 14 participants.

Director of Community Connection Bonnie Bazata had the original idea for the weeklong program.

“The week is designed to create breakthroughs in how we see ourselves,” she said. “It is an intellectual, relational, emotional and spiritual process that engages our whole selves. We learn from each other, from the history and people of the places we visit – and we come back with new eyes and a stronger commitment to take on complex problems like racism.”

In the last three years the trip has become more focused.

“It was [Bazata]’s idea to look at women as social change agents,” CWIL Study Abroad Advisor Sarah DeMott said. “Now it has transformed into looking at white privilege and racism.”

CWIL opened the trip to 30 staff, student and community women. The program is free for students. Historically there have been more community women participants than students, but in the last two years the proportion has been half and half.

“We try to split it equally between community women and students,” coordinator Lety Verduzco said. “Last year it was my job to get more students involved.”

The trip centers on workshops, diversity training and actual community involvement.

“People think that it is a service learning trip, but it’s not,” Verduzco said. “After we go into the community we just try to process everything. We discuss, and think how they can help in their own communities.”

The trip’s activities have changed with its focus.

“We always stay at Grailville, but last year we were in Tennessee at the Highlander Research and Education Center part of the time,” Verduzco said. “Now we’ll be staying in Cincinnati the whole time.”

Grailville is a retreat center started by lay Catholic women 70 years ago to support women transforming the world.

In Cincinnati participants will be meeting women from the community at the Peaslee Neighborhood Center and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center downtown.

“I am most looking forward to the Underground Railroad Freedom Center,” said Director of Intercultural Living Tracy Robison, who has been on the trip every year it has been offered. “I think it’s a good opportunity to see intergenerational people interact together.”

Senior Jacque Werling, who participated last year, agreed.

“It was the first time I interacted with such a diverse community,” she said. “People of different religions, races and ages all came together to listen to each other’s stories.”

With a focus on racism, privilege and poverty, students and staff hope to grasp a new understanding of racism.

“It is so important to understand racism from other races’ perspectives,” Werling said. “Most people say they aren’t racist, but you can be without knowing. The trip really was a good catalyst for changing your own perspective, and you have to do that before you can change the world, or even your own community.”

DeMott said it is important for white women to examine their perspective and responsibility toward racism.

“It’s fundamental to have a core realization of racism in America, to understand the whole power system of how oppression happens,” she said. “Otherwise, you are going about change in a very backward way.”