Olivia Barrows is a first year student at Pacific University planning to major in International Studies with minors in French and Gender & Sexuality Studies. Barrows came to Pacific from Colorado because she wanted a small school with a positive social outlook, and Barrows says she has yet to be disappointed with that decision.
I came to Pacific from Grand Junction, Colorado. I woke up to the classic Colorado Mountains and sunny skies every morning, but the social landscape waiting for me outside was a far cry from the liberal living space offered up by Boulder and Denver. Instead, I come from a guns blazing, diesel chugging, Planned Parenthood rejecting town. I spent my high school years watching fellow male yearbook editors be recognized for their efforts while I didn’t even get a handshake at the end of the year from the principal. As a result, I entered college unsure of my worth to the world.
So when I finally found a group of people who accepted me and were as passionate about creating social change as I am, it was one of the most heartwarming moments of my life. This happened at the Social Justice retreat. We were pairs, engaging in dialogue about how we fit in with various social justice movements. One of the questions we were tasked with discussing was “why are you involved in social justice?” I answered by verbalizing my commitment to creating a better world for my brothers and for the women who will follow me. There was a point in the discussion when my partner looked at me and said, “I’m so glad to hear you say that. I feel the same way.”
That was the first time I’d really had someone validate my opinion and say she would stand with me on that issue, regardless of gender. Where I came from, people always said I was a part of positive movements and still there was always a “but” to follow. I’d spent my life missing out on active listening and the further creation of progressive ideas.
If we hope to see tolerance in our world, we first must see the differences between individuals and also the common humanity that holds us together. But I feel like at some point, if you hope to grow the notion of tolerance within a particular society, you must find a group of like-minded people that can stand behind your idea and say, “Let us help you do this.” It’s important to be able to focus on leading a group fight and not fighting within a group.
The Social Justice Retreat reaffirmed this belief for me. I was so inspired by every single person who attended – we disclosed our privileges, we snapped to show our support for the ideas of others, and we were allowed to get angry and passionate about the faults of society. There were no emotions or ideas out of the question; everyone felt validated and accepted.
The moment that impacted me the most happened near the end of the retreat, when smaller groups were detailing their plans for change on campus. One group wanted to get more all gender bathrooms on campus while another wanted to construct a Center for Diversity to help students feel valued as diverse people rather than just quotas. The minds of my peers were problem solving and tackling huge issues that many would have stepped away from. In that moment, as a collective group of unique individuals we committed to changing the social climate of Pacific, and everyone felt equally needed, valued, and respected in that task.
That’s why I would recommend the retreat to other people interested, even in the slightest bit, about creating positive social change. This retreat brings together some of the most passionate and innovative minds among the campus. There’s such a buzz of excitement in the air that will propel you even when you are exhausted. When you find that particular group, you should shout your appreciation for them from the tops of the pro-social mountains you hope to build together. It’s tough work to stand up in the face of injustices, and never underestimate the power of a good following in that fight.