Retreat seeks to dispel cultural ignorance

Emma Searle, Assistant Editor-in-Chief

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For 15 years, the Race Culture Retreat has served as a medium for students and staff of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) to consider and discuss the topics of race and culture as they apply to our community and the world. Attendees of the annual retreat spent Dec. 12 and 13 at Alex’s Place participating in activities that encourage students to be vulnerable while participating in a dialogue about the ways in which race and culture affect them both as individuals and as a community.

Senior Harold Lawry was a student facilitator at the retreat this year. He said, “A lot of it was tough to sit through, only because it was so charged. Hearing all of the stories and all of the experiences that everybody had in their own lives really helped me to understand that nobody really knows anybody else’s baggage.”

An important aspect of the Race Culture Retreat is confidentiality. School adjustment counselor Amy Lilavois, who is also a faculty advisor for the retreat, said, “The retreat allows kids to open up and be honest with each other, knowing that it’s a confidential space.”

Dhakir Warren, administrator of student affairs at MVRHS, is new to the school and the Race Culture Retreat this year. “I really appreciated being able to hear and engage with students on such an emotional level, and hear personal stories where people were vulnerable and open and honest,” he said. “It makes you think about the ways that other people experience this community and the world.”

Historically the retreat has been made up of a group of faculty-selected students, but this year, for the first time, students were given the opportunity to apply to attend. Ms. Lilavois piloted the application option after having a conversation with a student who expressed desire to participate. This year, 10 of 40 students who attended were selected from a pool of roughly 30 applicants.

Junior Imani Hall, who applied for and attended the Race Culture Retreat this year, said, “Having the opportunity to apply is important, because some students who attended aren’t ones who would normally be selected for a retreat like this, but they had such lasting impacts and gave everyone a chance to broaden their horizons.”

“There are kids who have experienced bias or something that was discriminatory, and we didn’t know,” said adjustment counselor and faculty advisor Matt Malowski. “[Applying] gives them an opportunity to say, ‘I want to come and share my story.’”

“There’s something to be said for smaller cohorts of groups like this,” said Mr. Warren.

“I do think that also looking into how to engage a broader cross-section of the school in this work is something that everyone’s really interested in.”

Mr. Malowski said, “The biggest takeaway for me, and I say this every year, is how courageous these students are for taking the risks that they do at that retreat, by putting themselves out there — by sharing their stories, and opening up their minds.”