Photo Courtesy of Gabriela Ruiz Blake
There is a generally accepted rule in journalism that you’re not supposed to use first-person pronouns when writing a news article. But to describe the PossePlus Retreat without using “I” would be impossible. Separating myself from the emotional impact of the retreat would take away from the weekend’s meaning. Each year, the Posse organization votes on a new topic for the retreat. The 2015 theme was “Crime and Punishment.” The topic hit home for many students, professors, and faculty at the retreat, in light of the events in Ferguson, New York City, and issues related to crime and punishment at Sewanee. The facilitators of the weekend did their best to bring both the intellectual and emotional aspects of the theme to the forefront of everyone’s minds.
As the weekend started, many of my friends and I were unsure of what to expect. This year’s retreat saw a record-breaking number of attendees, many of whom had never been before. “I understood going in that we would be talking about deep and emotional things, but I didn’t realize how many of the people at the event have been affected directly by this subject, and how affected I would be by their experiences,” said Ben McKenzie (C’17). Friday night was filled with introductions and a gradual wading into the topic as we figured out our comfort zones. People who participated in last year’s Posse Plus Retreat noted that the group seemed to be taking more time to openly discuss the emotional impact of the issues, rather than from a more objective standpoint. “It’s weird – I was definitely crying by this point last year,” observed Kelly Ann Graff (C’17).
However, Saturday night saw the comfort zone expand to the entire group as the full emotional weight of the topic was brought to light. “For me, the Posse Plus Retreat was just an eye-opening experience to how much pain goes on in so many people’s lives on campus. But at the same time, to be able to receive the support and love that was in that room overpowered the pain and the suffering and the injustice and I will never forget that,” said Lauren Newman, a member of Posse 8 (C’18).Topics discussed included: how race, gender, class, sexuality, and privilege intersect with justice system on all levels; immigration; forms of punishment; and the Honor Code. Students and faculty alike expressed both support and criticism for every system discussed. One particular exercise saw people breaking into groups to discuss issues in the context of Sewanee’s environment, such as sexual assault, judicial processes, classism, identity performance, and stereotypes. Discussion was not only centered around the issues themselves, but how to bring them back to campus, in order to ensure that the positive impact of the weekend does not stay limited to those who were present.
It is difficult to explain the retreat in its entirety to those who were not present. The uniqueness of the experience, and the amount of trust we placed in each other, means that there is a lot that cannot be expressed in its entirety. The best way to understand the retreat is to listen. Listen to those who were present, and hear what they have to say about the subject. Listen to people around you when they have the courage to speak up about both our nation and Sewanee’s justice system. But most importantly, go next year. Go to the Posse Plus Retreat and be present, both in mind and heart.