Sophomore Retreat almost didn’t happen this year. After three years of sophomores enjoying the last few days of winter break together at a retreat center, a lack of funding was going to eliminate that possibility for the Class of 2018, the current Mudd sophomores. However, with the help of President Maria Klawe and some determined upperclassmen, the DSA (Division of Student Affairs) annual retreat remained a reality, and about forty of us sophomores arrived back at Mudd on January 14 to embark on this journey.
One concern I had on the first night of the retreat was that almost none of my friends were with me. Because none of them had signed up for the retreat, I was not sure whom I could socialize with for the next four days. Thankfully, the first night was spent playing icebreaker games, so I began to warm up to the rest of my classmates, many of whom I had not spoken to since Orientation.
Before leaving for the Alpine Meadows Retreat Center on the second day of the retreat, Dean Jacobsen, the Dean of Students, inspired me and my peers to take advantage of our time in college and instead of thinking of ourselves as a part of Mudd, to think of Mudd as a part of our lives. Dean Q, the Associate Dean for Student Health and Wellness, encouraged us to examine our “core values” closely to understand our positive and negative behaviors. Before I knew it, we were piling onto a bus and driving up to the retreat center. It was there that many deep conversations were had, many snowballs were thrown, many friendships were formed, and even many tears were shared.
We treated the retreat space as a place to be open and vulnerable if we chose to be, and therefore, many of my classmates shared their opinions and struggles. I had no idea how little I knew about my peers. So many of them revealed such personal information to a room full of people that I was shocked at how trusting they were of us. I was honored to hear details about their lives that I never would have known otherwise, and I will always remember not to be so quick to judge people in the future because I never know all the difficulties of their lives.
Being so open allowed us to befriend each other more readily, as Shailee Samar, a sophomore on the retreat with me, described, “My favorite part of Sophomore Retreat was the feeling of inclusion and realizing that there are so many people at Mudd who I could be close to but I just don’t get the time to talk to them. Over the span of a few days I talked to a variety of individuals I’d never talked to before. But it was more than just talking; it was connecting.”
One of my favorite parts of our time at the retreat center was attempting the high ropes course. My small group tried the “incomplete bridge” course, in which several planks of wood were spaced unevenly between two poles, daring us to walk across. Before we went up to individually attempt the treacherous walk, our guide asked us to describe a goal in our lives and what the next step to reaching that goal would be. Thus, the course served as a metaphor for taking difficult steps in our lives, which I thought was a powerful way to envision ourselves accomplishing our goals. What held the most meaning for me on this course though was when someone terrified of heights would attempt the walk. They didn’t even have to succeed; just watching my classmates directly face their fears inspired me and even made me proud to watch them.
The student facilitators and DSA staff on the retreat greatly helped us all explore our own identities and forge connections with each other, giving up their last few days of break to be with us. The facilitator of my small group, Emily Beese ’17, had a great experience during her Sophomore Retreat and wanted to help us have that experience too.
“I went on Sophomore Retreat reluctantly, as during the first semester of sophomore year, I experienced depression, stagnant friendships, and overwork. Surprisingly, the retreat actually changed my life!” said Beese. “I was convinced to go talk to Dean Q about my depression and made close friends at different dorms which reminded me that I can find support. I really wanted to be a facilitator so I could help remind others that they are valuable and have the power to initiate change.”
I am so glad that I made the choice to attend Sophomore Retreat, and I hope that the option will remain open for all future sophomores at Harvey Mudd.
Do you wanna build a snowman?