Students Bond at Annual Student Leadership Retreat

Students Bond at Annual Student Leadership Retreat

Students Bond at Annual Student Leadership Retreat

On Wednesday June 7, a bus full of John Jay students rumbled through the Hudson Valley. They were headed to Hudson Valley Resort and Spa for the annual student leadership retreat. In attendance were newly elected officers from John Jay’s clubs and student organizations, along with the new student council executives including President Fatime Uruci and Vice President Steven Pacheco. At one point, Pacheco, a sophomore, looked out the window and saw a sign for Ulster County. “That’s when it dawned on me,” he said, “the last time I was up here, I was in prison. I couldn’t help but think about all the people that never got the opportunities and chances I had.”

But he wasn’t the only one thinking about opportunities. The annual retreat, organized by Danielle Officer and Makeda Jordan of the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership (CSIL) offers campus leaders a unique chance to get to know each other, engage in team building, and form relationships that can lead to collaborations on future projects and initiatives.

The students spent the previous two days on campus for the first part of the retreat, where they learned about procedures, protocols, and other administrative responsibilities necessary to their new roles. At one point, they divided themselves into groups based on their spirit animal, which in this scenario represented how they worked together in groups.  Fatime and Steven were owls.

The second half of the retreat took place upstate where students spent time outdoors engaging in more team building exercises and getting to know each other in a way that’s only possible when you’re totally isolated from your normal environment.

“One thing that not just myself but other people are quick to pinpoint as a big issue at John Jay is communication,” said Uruci, an English and Philosophy double major soon to be in her senior year.  “There is definitely room for improvement, so team building early-on is the best way to go about that.”

Uruci was the chair of the CUNY-wide LGBTQIA task force, and has been involved in student government since 2015, first as a committee member and then as a delegate to the CUNY University Student Senate.  “I met so many leaders that were doing great things that I wish we could do here. And they would ask for help with things we were doing right at John Jay. That constant flow of energy and excitement is something I wanted to bring back to our campus, so I ran for president,” she said.

Uruci won by a slim margin of just 46 votes. And voter turnout surpassed all expectations, coming in at 18% (previous elections typically see 10-12%). She says this makes her happy because it means students are paying attention.

As president, Uruci has big plans for bringing student leaders together and introducing some new initiatives to the school. She’s particularly excited about a concept called “participatory budgeting,” in which a portion of the student council budget is set aside and students and faculty can submit proposals on how to spend it.  Then they vote for the best ones.

Pacheco said he got into student council because outgoing president Grace Agalo-Os noticed how students were connecting with him, and encouraged him to run. He was already a well-known figure on campus, and his personal journey has come to resemble both John Jay’s purest ideals while also highlighting some of its shortcomings.

A Bronx native, Pacheco first came to John Jay in 2008 with dreams of becoming a lawyer, but he experienced a series of setbacks; working long hours at a retail store caused his grades to slip, and some of his roommates couldn’t pay the rent on time so he got evicted. He failed out of John Jay, and not too long after found himself being sent upstate to serve a one-year sentence for a non-violent drug offense.

After re-applying through the Prisoner Re-entry Institute in 2015, Pacheco found the academic and financial support he lacked back in 2008, and has thrived since then. He received a Vera Opportunity Fellowship, interned at the Drug Policy Alliance, and is headed to Oakland, CA later this month for the 6th National Conference on Community and Restorative Justice.

“You really get to bond and learn about the student leaders, and how they’re a reflection of the John Jay community,” Pacheco said about the retreat. “I walked away feeling proud to be a John Jay student. Humanity – that’s our niche at John Jay. I don’t think any other school can compete with us.”