Better Together: Colleges & Teacher Unions

A challenge facing rapidly growing Lone Star College is providing the right mix of support programs for its diverse student body. This can be especially confounding when business metrics are favored to guide budget decision-making. That is, what’s the ROI (return on the investment)?

One prograroim that got chopped in the LSC-North Harris budget was the annual Sisterhood Retreat, sponsored by the Women’s Resource Center. The program is a one-day retreat that takes female students to spend the day in Navasota in my home so they can feel the hospitality of a faculty member and enjoy a day of respite and reflection. The program serves between nine and twelve students annually.

Despite its positive evaluations from past retreats and reputation for encouraging females to speak their truth, a decision was made by the administration to eliminate the budget for the retreat. Better to protect the larger programs that serve more students, someone said.

Really?

My colleague Angela Gant and I have helped Cassandra Boyd organize and host the retreat in the past, so we decided we’d handle the materials for the workshop and pay for lunch. But it wasn’t quite enough; there were no funds for transportation from big metropolis Houston to rural Navasota.

When our union (American Federation of Teachers) heard, AFT president Alan Hall offered the needed $450 to lease two vans and fill them with gasoline. As a result, nine students spent the day in a circle of trust reflecting and discussing their core values, their goals and aspirations, and their gifts and blessings. They discussed their past accomplishments, their current contributions, created bucket lists, and planned their legacies.

The experience was both powerful and empowering for these woman. In their evaluations, participants shared what they got from the retreat:

  • The retreat really made me think about what I want out of life.
  • Sharing something deep was powerful.
  • The retreat allowed us to get out of our shells.
  • I see how embracing my strong points helps me be my best/become my best self.
  • It was so calm and relaxing to be able to take a step back and look at our goals in life.
  • I loved how we all came together and reflected on how every woman is fabulous.
  • We were able to get to know people different from ourselves and communicate (on a deeper level).
  • Everything was amazing. There should definitely be more retreats in the future.
  • This retreat was a blessing to me.

This program would not have happened this semester without AFT’s contribution, but bigger is not always better, and the union saw the inherent value of a small, intimate retreat for young women who are still developing their identities. Thanks to the AFT, a tiny retreat program was saved, and nine invigorated students returned to campus to face final exams with unshakable confidence.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I call that a worthy ROI.