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PULSE Retreat Tackles Problems of 21st Century

Students from the University of Tampa and other institutions are taking the initiative to explore diversity by applying to participate in the PULSE (People Understanding Leadership Sustained) conference on March 20-22.

As an applicant, I believe the PULSE conference is relaying a very important message to students everywhere: to be more open-minded and accepting of other cultures, sexual orientations and just people in general.

The retreat will be located at the Dayspring Episcopal Conference Center in Ellenton, FL., where about 25 UT students will come together to learn new and improved communication skills.

When I learned I had been nominated to mediate parts of the conference, I could not have been more thrilled. Building tolerance toward individuals who are different helps us expand our knowledge and accept others’ beliefs and feelings.

PULSE aims to explore identity, leadership and inclusion to prepare students to tackle the challenges of a global 21st century, according to the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network website. PULSE’s inaugural year with SDCN was last April, and this year will be the first year that UT is participating, said Gina Firth, the associate dean of wellness at UT.

“One of the problems that I’ve seen is that people self-select and put themselves in silos,” said Firth. “And we have an amazing population that is so diverse, and we need to provide more opportunities for us to be working together and understanding each other.”

Firth has been very passionate about PULSE since the application for the grant crossed her desk last year.

SDCN’s website says: “The PULSE retreat curriculum is designed to form deep relationships across silos and spanning boundaries, encourage intense and meaningful exploration of structural inequities, develop better decision-making skills, practice empathy and mindfulness for effective leadership, and develop other competencies needed to tackle the challenges of a global twenty-first century.”

Out of the PULSE curriculum, Firth could not pick out one part that was the most important.

Firth described how there are “…so many multifaceted things that are happening during this retreat.” She pointed out that students who immerse themselves in this retreat experience a unique intimacy that occurs because participants are forced to have cordial face-to-face conversations, or “sustained dialogue.”

“There’s discussion, there’s debate, and there’s sustained dialogue,” said Firth. “Sustained dialogue allows people to really open up and discuss things from ‘I’ statements, from feeling point of views … dialogue is set up for understanding.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone could discuss sensitive issues in a way that increases their understanding of others? Not only does PULSE get participants to facilitate these difficult conversations, it encourages them to pass on their knowledge and help others communicate more efficiently and respectfully.

Jasper Davis, a junior management major with a leadership minor, was one of the students chosen to moderate the PULSE retreat. During the training session, Davis learned about “The Big 8,” which he described as the main categories that individuals define with. These eight categories include gender, sex, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, nationality, race and age. The Big 8 will be central to the subject matter participants will be learning sustained dialogue for.

“Always allowing people to have their voices heard and always learning from what you hear from others are the types of skills that are imperative for being a successful leader and friend,” said Davis.

Davis enjoyed the icebreakers during the three day training session because they allowed each moderator to tell their own stories of how they identified in terms of the big 8.

“It was kind of cool because it allowed us to have that introspective time to kind of look at ourselves that you don’t often get or think about,” said Davis, “and then also hear how other people perceive themselves and how they portray that to others around them.” Learning from other people and their experiences can be very beneficial to each individual’s personal growth. I think this retreat is an excellent way to actively do that and encourage others around you to do the same.

Every student who has interest in this retreat should apply next year. Students at UT need to break out of their comfort zones and try understanding people who are different from them. The PULSE team looks for students who are willing and able to pass on the skills of sustained dialogue, people with leadership and communication skills, open opinions, those who are accepting of others, and diversity.

“You have to have some of that represented as much as possible in your leadership,” said Firth.


Liz Rockett can be reached at


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