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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Men of Color retreat has great impact on many

<f Color congregated at a rural retreat center this weekend for the annual MOC Retreat. The second night of the retreat, I traded a reasonable bedtime for late-night hours with the guys. As debates, conversations and frequent laughter carried us well past midnight, my wonder and gratitude grew more than I could have anticipated. Only the day before, some of us were first encountering each other, polite but cautious. By Saturday night politeness had given way to respect, and caution to connection.

Early Sunday morning, my eyes red from too few sleep cycles, I took a walk with the rising sun. I meandered toward the retreat center’s labyrinth, mowed into a hilltop of prairie grass and wildflowers. I recalled my first MOC retreat four years ago and how my walk in the labyrinth then left me surprised by how long it took me to complete. I entered the winding course again, finding comfort with better knowing the path before me.

After only several steps, I found myself passing a few strides away from the center, a pentangular bench where I could sit and enjoy the sunrise, my goal. Moments later, though, after following the first few twists and turns, I found that due to the curve of the hill, I could no longer see the center. Fond of allegories, I wondered how the labyrinth might represent the experiences of men of color at Carleton.

Like most students at Carleton, men of color can see in seniors and alumni, the nearness and tangibility of their academic goals. Yet, like most students, losing sight of those goals during the twists and turns of life with Carleton can feed uncertainty and doubt. Walking through these twists and turns, losing sight of the central goal, can feel much more solitary than any early morning walk.

As the steps accumulated on my early morning walk, I noticed how the nature of the labyrinth permits me to walk the duration with my head down or with my gaze at the horizon. I suspect that neither extreme offers the richest nor most satisfying journey. Sometimes the matters closest at hand afford opportunities for wonder, wisdom or gratitude—for me the prairie flower opening to the rising sun; for students, well, I won’t pretend to know, but I am sure the opportunities abound. Sometimes keeping an eye on the horizon clarifies progress, direction and a sense of the larger world. The key, I guess, is finding a balance between noticing what’s at hand and attending to larger matters.

The way the labyrinth cuts into the hillside, it affords no easy passage for occasional heavy rains. Thus, the winding path has been cut across on all sides by rushing torrents that have left intermittent patches of grass pressed down, apparent shortcuts in the labyrinth. The shortcuts deceive. A labyrinth’s winding course is such that adjacent paths do not clearly reveal which direction to walk either toward the center or toward the entrance, which serves also as the exit. Supposed shortcuts can prolong the journey. Impatience with the winding course will only exasperate. Better, I say, to make the most of this winding path, to learn from it, to clarify what paths to take or make at the next opportunity.

At first, I imagined that the labyrinth suits as a metaphor for the full four years at Carleton, but I am a White male with a masters and doctorate behind me, and I can only imagine how the labyrinth might resonate with men of color on their journey here. Perhaps the labyrinth represents the journey of every term, or week, or day. Perhaps every step on the labyrinth is akin not to a major step toward graduation but a small step toward making the way through myriad mazes within mazes, one day at a time or maybe even just minute by minute. I imagine that every day can feel like a full course through the labyrinth for men of color overhearing yet another student or professor express doubts about academic merit, doubts based only on assumptions and stereotypes. I imagine that every day can feel like a full course through the labyrinth for men of color when majority students step off the sidewalk when passing by.

We are Men of Color, walking a multitude of labyrinths. We are also Men of Character. Men of Courage. Men committed to this path. Walk with us. Talk with us. Walk beside us through these labyrinths. Even if it’s unfamiliar territory for you, you’ll be in good company.

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