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Retreat reunites minorities

Dan Barabasi | Monday, September 9, 2013

Over 150 freshmen of various cultural backgrounds joined together this past weekend to evaluate the place of culture and religion in their lives at Notre Dame. From Friday afternoon to mid-Sunday, students of Asian, Latino, and African-American backgrounds joined faculty and staff to build a community of shared experiences.

The ethnic retreats included icebreakers, visits to the Grotto, talks given by upperclassmen and staff, a game watch, and mass, but the most important factor was building a sense of community and welcome for the students involved.

John Paul Lichon, coordinator of campus retreats at Notre Dame, said the center’s ethnic retreats aim to stress a balance between culture and religion, and encourage students to also attend the five remaining non-ethnic freshmen retreats throughout the year.

“The ‘regular’ First-Year retreat has a stronger emphasis on how faith, studies, and God work together,” Lichon said. “We have a strong show every year, but we hope to integrate the students at ethnic retreats more in the future.”

The ethnic retreats attracted a strong attendance this year. According to Judy Madden, head of the African-American Student Ministry, the ‘Plunge’ retreat boasted attendance of 50 first-year African-American students, which makes up 60 percent of the non-athlete freshmen at Notre Dame.

“What I like about these ethnic retreats is that they give a community within the community, building a place that feels like home early on,” Madden said. “Plunge gives African-American students a safe place to ask questions about teachers, clubs, social life, dating and religion at Notre Dame.”

Priscilla Wong, director for Multi-Cultural Student Ministry at Notre Dame, said this ability of the ethnic retreats program to provide a touchstone to ethnic communities is praiseworthy.

The ethnic retreats do not end when the students are released back to their dorms, instead they establish a resource for the students involved, Wong said.
The Asian-American retreat’s theme for this year was “Unwritten,” focusing on the four years at the University which will be “written” by the students.

Sophomore Gaby Mercurio, a student leader of the Asian-American retreat, said the leaders  worked hard to make freshmen feel comfortable in the on-campus community.

“We just wanted the first years to know that they could always come to the upperclassmen and feel at home,” Mercurio said.

“If they’re ever feeling homesick, we have Asian food for them,” she said.

Wong said the retreats program works to enable freshmen to place themselves in the community.

“We have this welcome group of people and programs to work with the first years,” Wong said, “But what we really try to do is to provide an open arms.”