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Campus Step Up: Celebrating 20 years of change-making

by Niamh O'Shea

As application deadlines approach for Campus Step Up: A Social Justice Retreat, which will be held from Jan. 16 to 18 in Estes Park, the aim is to not only look forward. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in January, the social justice and diversity program also looks back on what has been built over the past 20 years.

Campus Step-Up t shirt

Testimonies and transformations

Emerging first in 1994 as the Multicultural Leadership Retreat through Housing and Dining Service, the program is now housed in the office of Student Leadership, Involvement & Community Engagement (SLiCE). Run the weekend prior to Martin Luther King Jr. Day each January, this three-day retreat provides students with a forum to expand their awareness of social justice, multicultural and global issues in a safe environment that fosters growth through self-reflection and education.

Bobby Kunstman, assistant director for leadership in the SLiCE Office, said the program’s ultimate goal is to support students in their process of becoming positive change agents within their communities and beyond.

Previous participants affirm that Campus Step Up lives up to its goals. Colorado State University alum Noah Sandoval sums up his Campus Step Up experience as “transformational.”

“It exposed to me just how important our actions are…just how much of an influence we can have on our environment.”

Sandoval added the retreat was an opportunity that “truly altered the lens in which I Group conversation at Campus Step-Upview the world.”

Sandoval’s perspective is echoed by Kira Jane Davis, a languages, literature, and cultures major who attended Campus Step Up during her first year. When Davis arrived at the retreat, she “hardly knew anything about social justice,” but the experience was a catalyst for engagement with social justice and her current community involvement, which includes peer mentoring and volunteering with the INTO program.

“I changed my language, then I would try to get others to change their language… I started working in all these positions that help people understand and feel safe.”

She asserts that engaging in dialogues around identity, inclusivity and equity has now become a part of her daily life.

Positive change for everyone

While participants perceive change within themselves, retreat facilitators also see the impact of the program has on a broad scale. Sam Desta, a facilitator at last year’s Campus Step Up and Coordinator for the Key Service and Health Professions communities, understands the retreat as beginning a dialogue about social justice that continues long after the weekend ends. Continuing to meet with her group once every month following the retreat with her co-facilitator Emily Ambrose, she noticed that “after leaving Step Up, [students] picked up on things on campus, Fort Collins community and in their personal lives that they did not notice before. It’s incredibly inspiring to see students wanting to start their social justice journey and learn how to make effective change.”

Group picture at Campus Step-Up

Jennifer Nival, program coordinator in the Office of Campus Activities, agrees: “It was a privilege and honor to see students challenge themselves and challenge each other.” Facilitating Campus Step Up, she adds, allowed her to experience growth within herself as well.

Looking ahead

As Campus Step Up prepares for its 2014 retreat, the program reflects back on years’ worth of testimonies and transformations. In 20 years, the CSU staple has been attended by hundreds of students, and its impacts felt in the Fort Collins community and beyond. As Campus Step Up alumni move on from CSU, they take their experiences with them. In turn, the retreat’s model has been adopted by other institutions such as the University of Vermont.

Kunstman notes that while Campus Step Up has been successful in engaging many on the CSU campus in transformative change, there is still much that needs to be done to build an inclusive and social justice-oriented global community. Here’s to looking forward to see what Campus Step Up will achieve in its next 20 years.

Participant applications for the 2014 Campus Step Up, which will be held Jan. 16 through 18 in Estes Park, are available on RamLink until Nov. 6. 

This event is co-sponsored by SLiCE, Campus Activities, & Office of Residence Life.