Divisive or welcoming? Racial unity group says such events ‘promote exclusion’
Seattle University is hosting a retreat specifically advertised for “students of color” this weekend, saying it will provide rest to individuals who have been “historically excluded by dominant systems due to their racial or ethnic identity.”
The event, “Rooted: A retreat for students of color,” is a project of the private, Catholic Jesuit university’s campus ministry and MOSAIC Center. The university also hosts special retreats for “faculty and staff of color” and for students with “marginalized genders,” according to its website.
The Rooted retreat became an annual event three years ago, according to a post on the center’s Instagram page. It says that the weekend event is an “opportunity for students of color to find rest, explore intersecting identities, cultivate community, and have fun.”
“This retreat is a time for students who have been historically excluded by dominant systems due to their racial or ethnic identity to just be. We will travel off campus to be in community with other students of Color, to have fun, reflect, and build potential lifelong connections,” the campus ministry website states.
The Fix contacted the university campus ministry and media relations twice within the past two weeks, but neither responded. The Fix asked how events like the Rooted retreat align with the university’s non-discrimination policy, how it defines “people of color,” if there are any restrictions on who can attend the retreat, and how the university believes the event will benefit students.
Its non-discrimination policy states that “Seattle University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, political ideology.”
Meanwhile, Color Us United, an organization that works to end racial division in America, told The Fix that segregated events like the one at Seattle University are concerning.
“… it actively promotes exclusion and sends the message that minorities are better off when they aren’t in the physical presence of their fellow white students,” said Mike Markham, program coordinator for Color Us United, when asked about the retreat.
Markham told The Fix that racial segregation is based on the notion that an individual’s primary value comes from their skin tone.
“By sanctioning and promoting such an event, the university is sending the message that an immutable characteristic – in this case race – is of more importance than character, shared interests, or anything else that might make an individual unique,” he said.
“The university’s website says the event allows minority students ‘to just be.’ What exactly are these students able to ‘be’ that they aren’t or cannot be in the presence of their fellow students of lighter complexions. Furthermore, it’s highly doubtful that an event only open to white students would be sanctioned or celebrated,” Markham told The Fix.
Retreats like these are becoming ever-present in universities across the U.S. Le Moyne College, another Jesuit Catholic institution in New York, held a similar retreat this winter. Other events at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, Pacific Lutheran University in Washington state, and Claremont University in California also are advertised specifically for students and faculty of color.
At Seattle University, the campus ministry also has hosted a retreat for students with “marginalized genders” called “Embodying the Sacred.” According to its website, the retreat “offers a space for students who are non-binary or Two-Spirit, transgender and cisgender women, and transgender men to share stories, relax, reflect, and be held in community.”
Additionally, in 2022, Seattle University held a retreat for “faculty and staff of color” to “focus on reconnecting, relaxing and restoring.”