To podcast of the transcript below can be found here.
Hi parents and families. My name is Jordyn Williams and I have had the privilege to serve as the graduate intern for our New Student and Family Programs Office this year. For this month’s podcast, I’m here with Tori Pinedo, who’s going to be talking to us about an awesome retreat called SPARC that’s run through the Center for Multicultural Affairs (CMA) on campus. So, I am going to go ahead and hand it over to Tori to introduce herself.
Hi, I’m Tori! Thanks, Jordyn. I’m a senior at Duke. I study international comparative studies. and I’m an education minor. And I’m the co-director/founder of the SPARC retreat, which is a retreat hosted by the Center for Multicultural Affairs (CMA) for which I’m also like student staff. So, my position with SPARC is the co-director. So, I led the retreat, along with another one of my peers Margot Armbruster and we both are seniors. So, we led this retreat back in the fall semester of 2021. And yeah, that’s basically my position with SPARC. SPARC is … do you want me to go into like what SPARC is?
Yeah, please, please.
Yeah, let me pull it up real quick. I had it pulled up here. Give me one second, sorry. Okay yeah, so SPARC is a retreat, formerly known as Common Ground through the CMA. And this is a newly envisioned weekend retreat for Duke students. And it’s led by Duke students, and facilitated by Duke students as well, primarily undergraduate students. So, we aim for participants to reimagine what an equitable and just society could look like. So, this is primarily a social justice retreat. And we are using a framework of liberation to address like all forms of like systemic oppression. And the main topics that we talk about are racism, classism, patriarchy, etc. And we do this so we can reflect on like who you are, and like how we engage with each other on campus as students. A lot of people come into Duke, you know, and we’re 18, 17. And sometimes we don’t know a lot about ourselves and other people that are from different backgrounds from us. So, this is like a lot of the times students first encounter with like, people that have different identities from them, and they’re also going through their own type of identity discovery. So, it’s like a space where we welcome people of all stages of their journey to what we call like liberation. And we believe that like our liberation is, like interconnected. So, we want folks to feel really engaged with one another, and conversations throughout this retreat about race, gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, expression, and class, right? Because we do know that even though Duke is primarily like wealthy and white institution, like there are folks that come from different backgrounds, such as myself. So yeah, like that’s, that’s our mission. And, and it’s a little different from Common Ground, which is the predecessor retreat, because it’s, it takes a more like action approach, rather than just like introspective approach to like, what identity is like now that we know a little bit more about ourselves, what can we do to like, help our community at Duke be the type of community we want it to be? Yeah, that’s a lot.
Great, thank you for sharing that. So how has your involvement in SPARC impacted your time here at Duke?
Yeah, I joined the CMA staff this year, but I’ve been involved with the Center for Multicultural Affairs since I was a freshman. Just as a student that was like my home away from my dorm, like I lived on East Campus. So, on West Campus, I was always in the Center for Multicultural Affairs. So, I was involved with like, Common Ground before it was SPARC, it was known as Common Ground my sophomore year. And then I co-directed this new retreat senior year. So, it’s been like a really big part of my time at Duke because it’s been like over the course of a couple of years that I’ve grown, I want to say like as a person through this retreat, as well, like through being part of it, and through recreating it. That’s a really big part of my time at Duke, I want to say like as a community organizer, like that’s how I see myself and as an educator because I was able to, like build a curriculum and implement it along with like my co-director Margot and my advisors, J’nai and Elmer at the CMA. So, it’s been like a really big confident confidence boost for me, but also like, a really big learning experience as like a young, I guess, like professional to because I had to learn how to work with others, I had to learn how to be confident in my vision, and how to really implement it. So, I think like Duke, I mean, Duke SPARC has really been like, I want to say the project for me at Duke that has helped me understand more about my identity, right, as a Latina, as like a low-income person, right working-class person. And really, like, learn how to use it for like a part in a powerful way. Rather than like, just viewing myself as like, okay I’m just different from a lot of people here. Like, how can I use it to educate people about the things that I, how I see the world, and also not just how I see the world, but how we can all like, feed off of each other? And what we know our collective knowledge is and make Duke better. Right? So yeah, that I think it’s really impactful for me.
Yeah, thank you for sharing. It sounds like it’s been really impactful in some meaningful ways. And I resonated with a lot of what you shared about your identities, because I share some of those as well. And so, I’m like, man, I wish I could have taken advantage of something like this during my time as an undergraduate student, because at my institution, we don’t have something like this, that I know of. And so, thanks for sharing that. I’d love–– you kind of touched on it a little bit. But I’d love to know, in what ways has SPARC allowed you to explore your own identity and the identities of others?
Yeah, I think like, SPARC has been like the one place I feel like other than, like some cultural organizations that I’m a part of. So like, SPARC is different in that it really intends to bring folks of all different kinds of cultural backgrounds and like, different organizations on campus to coalition and community build together. Like, that’s the point and the vision of SPARC as a retreat because there’s like, not a lot of spaces on campus where I feel like it’s a centralized place for let’s say, like, different cultural organizations. Like I’m part of Mi Gente as a member, so like Mi Gente, BSA, let’s see others like ASA, like. the Asian Students Alliance, Black Students Alliance, a lot of different organizations that we kind of live in the same floor of the Bryan center. Right, but there’s just not a lot of events, or places where we could all kind of come together and spend time really thinking about, what do we want out of Duke? And how can we help each other achieve that? It’s kind of really isolated? Right, and I don’t want to say, like, intentionally, from the school. And so, I think like, SPARC has allowed me to, to imagine how to create a space on campus where we could facilitate kind of that centralization of like student activists, student leaders, and like young, like undergraduates that are just like, starting Duke. Right? And how can we, how can they learn from like, the upperclassmen that they identify with, like in terms of like, their race, their gender, their, like, sexual orientation, and stuff like that, but also like, learning from folks that are very different from them that they could realize, oh, well, we have a lot of like, things that align to like in terms of our goals for what we want out of Duke, or what we would want Duke to do better for us, like as a student body, especially as like marginalized students on campus. So I think like, that’s what SPARC has allowed me to learn, too is like, what do other people in other spaces in other organizations? What are they fighting for? Right? And how similar it is to like, let’s say what meant this fighting for what, like, other groups on campus have been fighting for it, whether it’s like, a, like a real center, where it’s like a building or something like that, like we have demands, but how can we all like collectively understand that our demands are not that different from each other, and we actually have to work together to achieve them. Yeah, I don’t want to go too much of a tangent. But that’s basically what I think SPARC has helped me understand and I hope the other people get it too like other students understand the vision for what we’re trying to achieve.
Yeah, that’s awesome. We have just a couple of more questions. So how or have you been able to use what you’ve learned during the retreat in your personal life? And if so, how?
Yeah. I think like, just standing in my power. Like I was thinking about this question a lot before because I was like, “what have I really learned?” Because I feel like I’ve gained so much, intellectually, professionally, and personally it’s been like a whirlwind of emotions, because it’s kind of like, it was very stressful at first to, like do this project and see it through because it was like, throughout the summer of 2021, the fall semester and the spring semester. I’m taking on like, different roles as co-director. But I think like, all in all, like, it’s been like, okay, how can I use my identities to empower me, and to empower others? I think that’s like the main thing I gained, personally, because I don’t think that there’s been another space where I, on campus another organization where I felt like I could be my authentic self. Right? And that I was seen, as a leader, I was seen as like, just like an equal community member, almost like I feel like my SPARC retreat cohort, the first one that we had this year was like, so tight knit during the retreat. And they really like, saw each other for like, we saw each other for who we are. And we kind of met each other where we are, and I haven’t had like, that much fun with, like, sophomores and freshmen, like, in a long time because of the pandemic. So, like, personally, I feel like I’ve gained friendships. I feel like I’ve gained like a new sense of who I am, too, because the last time I was able to really be in a group of people was like, sophomore year. So, I was like the baby, right? Because I was like, oh I’m like the underclassmen and like I’m looking up to the upperclassmen. But now I’m the senior. So, kind of being in that dynamic of like, oh, I really grew up. And other people are witnessing that. And then hopefully, like, somebody else who’s gone through SPARC will be in my position. So, I feel like I’ve gained like a sense of like, growth, to like, being able to witness my own growth through this retreat is interesting.
Yeah, it sounds almost like it’s just kind of come full circle for you, which is cool to hear. Well, I’ll wrap us up by just asking, what would you say to a student who might be interested in going on a SPARC retreat, getting involved with SPARC in general, what would you recommend to that student? And what would you tell that student?
Yeah, I say, like, do it! It’s really, its really immersive experience, like compared to a lot of experiences on campus, like, it’s three, four days of seeing the same people, right, so you get to meet new friends that maybe you haven’t met before, on campus, whether it’s upperclassmen, or underclassmen, right. So, at any point, in your stage at Duke, whether you’re a sophomore, freshman, junior or senior, like, doing the SPARC retreat, you’re gonna have that experience as if you were like a freshman again, right. Like getting to know new people, and understanding new perspectives and hopefully building relationships, right? That are like, founded on like, seeing each other for your authentic selves, right, which is very different. I want to say like, a lot of times when you’re in social groups at Duke like, and you want to rush this organization, or you want to join this cultural group is like, based off of like, what, like the similarities you have, like, staying in your comfort zone, but I feel like SPARC really pushes you out of that comfort zone in a way that’s necessary to build those coalitions. Right, as a student body, and if you’re like a student activist, and you’re looking to be involved in that type of work, like at Duke, like, this is definitely like the space for you. And if you are just beginning your journey, like social justice and stuff like that, like this is a great learning experience, because it’s like, it kind of meets the curriculum meets people where they’re at. Like, it’s not like very advanced, but it’s also not very, like it doesn’t stay in one place. Right? Like, it’s like for transformational growth. Right. So hopefully every year that you do the SPARC retreat, like it could be like an annual thing that you do. Oh, yeah, this year, I’m gonna do SPARC. Right. But I’m gonna be a facilitator instead of a participant. And next year, maybe I’ll be co-director. I don’t know. That’s like the hope right.
Yeah, well, thank you again for being here today with us. If our parents and families want to learn more, if they want to find out more information, where can we direct them?
Yeah. The Center for Multicultural Affairs website, which is under Student Affairs website at Duke. Their webpage has all information about SPARC. And SPARC has an Instagram so if you put @duke.sparc, you’ll get like all the latest like news on like, when the retreat is happening and who’s part of it, who’s leading it. So, that’s where you can find this.
And parents and families, I will be sure to link that in our transcript and on our newsletter. But if you have any more questions, please reach out to us. We’re happy to answer what we can, and I hope everyone has a great rest of your day!