A few months ago, I signed up for Camp UKnight, a leadership retreat in at Stony Acres Wildlife Sanctuary in the Pocono Mountains. Camp UKnight is run by the Department of Leadership and Experiential Learning. I didn’t know what that meant, but I knew I wanted to get involved in everything I could at Rutgers. So last Friday, I got on a bus full of incoming freshman heading from the Livingston Student Center to Pennsylvania.
Our bus arrived at Stony Acres around nine in the evening. We stumbled through the dark campsite to our very rustic cabins and then into the main building. We spent the rest of the night playing awkward get-to-know-you games, which was a recurring theme for the weekend. But once we did know each other, awkward became endearing and fun.
The next morning my cabinmates and I pushed together two cafeteria tables at breakfast. We had been up late talking, and we were all sleepy but excited to take on the ropes course that morning.
At the low ropes course, we took on challenges like walking across cables strung between trees, swinging across pretend ravines, and lifting each other up in the air, all while carefully spotting each other. This meant that we had to learn to be trusting and trustworthy. This would useful later in the day on the real obstacles, like the climbing wall and zip line.
I want to be adventurous and make the most of my Rutgers experience, but I drew the line at zip lining. And I only made it halfway up the climb to the tightrope walk before chickening out. Oh well. From that point on, I kept my feet on the ground and chatted about the year to come with my new friends.
By dinner, we had all grown close enough to have some deep conversations about what it means to be a leader. What is the difference between inclusion and diversity? How can we judge people fairly and avoid prejudice? How do our own “invisible backpacks” affect our worldview? These are important questions that I think everyone at Camp UKnight will have to work on answering for themselves over the next four years.
We spent the next day at Hickory Run State Park. We all crossed Boulder Field, which might be one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. Boulder Field is a naturally occurring, three-quarter mile wide field covered in giant boulders. I crossed it with one of my new friends, who saw it almost as a type of meditation. “It’s sort of zen. I’m too focused on the rocks to worry about anything else,” she said.
When we got back to Stony Acres that evening, we loaded our backpacks and sleeping bags back onto the bus and got ready to say goodbye. But first, our Student Leaders had all fifty or so of us stand in a circle and say one word to describe how we were feeling.
I said “included.” I had made so many new friends. I’m twice as excited to start school at Rutgers and spend more time with the people I met at Camp UKnight. They’re currently all on Groupme trying find a time and place for us all to meet for breakfast. How about one month from now at Livingston Dining Hall?