Josephine St-Cyr used to be reluctant to open up to people and be seen as vulnerable.

The University of Florida accounting sophomore, said that all changed when she went to Gatorship and learned to embrace herself, including her flaws.

“One cannot describe their Gatorship experience without including ‘You had to be there to understand,’” St-Cyr said.

Every year UF’s Multicultural & Diversity Affairs supports an intergroup conversation and social justice education program known as Gatorship, a three-day retreat where students of UF come together to learn the basics of social justice, speak about their own personal experiences and acquire the skills needed to effectively participate in dialogue among diverse individuals. Students are challenged to participate in numerous activities, attend presentations facilitated by Gatorship staff, and actively listen to each other’s stories relating to the given topics. There are four retreats offered Spring semester.

Ishika Khondaker, a UF chemical engineering senior, said she had heard that Gatorship was this life-changing experience before she decided to apply.

“You learn more about your peers, form invaluable connections and cry,” she said. “While all of this did happen, especially the crying, I was surprised by how much I learned about myself.”

Gatorship grants students the opportunity to hear from others and provides a safe space for them to be vulnerable, allowing them to obtain self-realizations.

Jacob Hornfeldt, a UF psychology freshman, attended Gatorship in January.

“Gatorship forces you to interact with new people, even if it is uncomfortable, and because the nature of the retreat is so vulnerable and open it is very easy to become friends with people there,” Hornfeldt said. “I’m glad that I was able to make the friends I did.”

The retreat connects students who might not have ever crossed paths before. It grants individuals the opportunity to form relationships and connections that are encouraged to last beyond the retreat and throughout one’s time at UF.

After an amazing weekend at Gatorship, many students feel the desire to dig deeper into social justice and continue the Gatorship journey, Billy Hackett said.

The UF political science and international studies sophomore started out as a participant in Gatorship and is now an assistant director for program.

“For almost an entire year – from awkward small talk and introduction activities before summer to retreat season this spring – the staff has passionately committed themselves to the mission of Gatorship: building a more inclusive community one Gator at a time,” Hackett said.

Hackett said he enjoys working with Gatorship because it gives him an opportunity for personal growth and the ability to help empower and educate the program’s participants.

Gatorship applications open every Fall, and Hackett said past participants encourage everyone to apply.

“There is something new to be learned each time,” Hackett said after his third retreat. “At Gatorship we explore virtually all facets of one’s identity – from gender to race to socioeconomic status to religion to ability – at the individual, sociocultural and systemic levels.”