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Students Take the PULSE of UT’s Diversity

Published: February 17, 2015
Cristina Muyshondt ’16 and Devin Phinazee ’15 are two of the facilitators of the March 20-22 PULSE retreat.
Cristina Muyshondt ’16 and Devin Phinazee ’15 are two of the facilitators of the March 20-22 PULSE retreat.
The motto at PULSE is to “listen deeply enough to be changed by what you hear.”

The weekend retreat is designed by the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue for college students to explore identity, leadership and inclusion. UT’s Wellness Center and Office of Student Leadership and Engagement will be offering the free, off-campus opportunity to students March 20–22.

“The appeal of PULSE, for me, was rooted in deep conversation. I wanted to surround myself with dialogues about real people and real problems,” said Megan Wiedeman ’16, an English major with a minor in women’s studies and leadership who is helping facilitate the retreat. “So often we find ourselves stuck in a rut of small talk or politeness, and we miss out on understanding who people are and how they work.”

The conversations are intended to urge participants to truly relate to a diverse audience. Retreat talks are hosted by student representatives of a particular diversity — race, gender, sexual orientation, intersectionality, religion or socioeconomic status.

“To be completely honest, I wasn't prepared for the hard emotions that come with that. There are the highs of true human connection and the lows of confusion and growing pains,” said Wiedeman, of Bradenton, FL. “But in the end the empowerment of knowing yourself and opening yourself up to others is what keeps me coming back.”

Devin Phinazee ’15, the student coordinator of diversity and inclusion , said even though he is extensively versed in social justice, the immersive nature of the retreat made a big impact.

“It makes you feel more than it makes you think, which makes it more impactful,” said Phinazee, a graphic design major from Valrico, FL. “Especially for students, the retreat is more emotionally powerful than just learning statistics.”

Cristina Muyshondt ’16, an international and cultural studies major, grew up in El Salvador with a Salvadoran father and American mother. She spent her high school summers at cultural exchange camps around the world. When she heard about PULSE, she knew instantly she wanted to be involved.

“Society tries to categorize us, put us in boxes, and I think people are tired of it,” Muyshondt said. “There are so many things that make us who we are, and this is our chance to talk about it.”

The retreat is meant to just start the conversation. There will be gatherings throughout the semester to continue the discussion and to work on issues around campus with action.

“We’re planting seeds in something we hope will be huge,” Phinazee said.

If there is one thing organizers hope participants come away with, the answer is clear.

“Change, plain and simple,” said Wiedeman. “It doesn't have to be big change, but some kind of change. We are humans, ever growing, and there is so much to be learned from others. Having those hard conversations promotes that change. It helps us question who we think we are, our beliefs and our biases.”

To sign up, check out .

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