On Tuesday, August 29, after spending a few hours moving into a mostly empty campus – for the vast majority of Rutgers students, even early move-in didn’t start until August 31st this year – I headed to the College Ave Student Center with a duffle bag and a couple of friends I knew primarily from the GroupMe and a brief meeting at orientation back in late June.
My destination: the Discovery Program, offered through Rutgers Leadership and Experiential Learning, “a three day, two night immersion retreat that will take place just before you arrive for your first days at Rutgers.”
The first night consisted of an opening ceremony (including a deceptively delicious dinner – little did we know lunch for the next two days would be simple PB&J’s!) and lots of icebreakers. Hours upon hours of name games and rock-paper-scissors-split tournaments; one of our teammates actually tore his pants in the process of winning the later. By the time the bus arrived, though, we were all ready to go to bed.
In the interest of not spoiling the adventure for future participants – “It’s a surprise!” our LEx leaders kept insisting whenever we asked what was next on the schedule – I won’t go into too much detail, except to say that the Social Justice track’s 6:15 a.m. call time was brutal but worth the trade-off of spending the day in New York City, and that my friends on the other tracks – Community Service, Adventure Learning, and Sustainability – assure me that they endured similar necessary discomforts.
And yet none of it could even begin to compare to the scope of the day-to-day dilemmas we learned about: racism and classism, gentrification, food waste, and so many more. Of course we did what we could, whether through working to come up with sustainable solutions, physically serving the community, or simply starting the conversation with city residents. None of these things fixed the problem they were meant to address, but they were certainly better (i.e., more effective) than taking no action at all.
There were several group check-ins throughout, to discuss our thoughts regarding the various issues we were learning and observing and debating, and entire spectrums of opinions were voiced in response to each new topic. It was definitely mind-expanding to hear how others interpreted the same facts and personal interviews in completely different ways in light of their values and personal experiences, and I know that I for one had my opinion swayed on a number of subjects.
I’m sure everyone’s ultimate takeaway was unique, but personally I’ve definitely been inspired to devote more of my time to serving the greater New Brunswick/Piscataway community, which of course includes Rutgers itself as a smaller community, and to generally try to remain more aware and appreciative of all my own advantages and privileges. Considering how greatly our experiences influence our thoughts and behaviors, I highly recommend this one.
To sum up the program: My brain hurt and my body was sore and I was incredibly sleep-deprived, and it was all absolutely worth it.