Pocono retreat canceled due to threat of alleged shooter, student leaders adapt

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The Office of Student Leadership Development’s annual Great Pocono Escape weekend, hosted at Camp Canadensis in the Pocono Mountains, was canceled due to threat of a suspected armed killer in the area.

The suspect, 31-year-old Eric Matthew Frein, who is No. 2 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list for the murder of a Pennsylvania state trooper, remains unapprehended.

Students were notified Friday morning of the retreat’s cancellation via email.

Eleven organizations were set to participate this year, with 160 students and faculty expected to attend. The OSLD had organized the logistics and curriculum of the weekend, and individual organizations planned to use the time both to set goals as a group and to collaborate with the other groups present.

Christine Gravelle, the assistant dean and director of leadership development and civic engagement, was in charge of the weekend. She said the overarching theme of the trip was collaborative connections, which is one of the five foundations of the bLUeprint, an overarching guide to help students determine what their experience at Lehigh will be like.

Gravelle said the purpose behind the theme of collaborative connections is for students and groups to build interpersonal relationships with their peers and staff.

The groups that would have attended include the Association of Student Alumni, three athletics leadership organizations, Camp Hawk counselors, class officers, Orientation Coordinators and members of the Student Senate, among others.

The OSLD works with a committee to choose the event’s participating groups. Gravelle said they reach out to different departments on campus to see which organizations they want to send. She said the OSLD would welcome more organizations to attend in the future if interested.

Gravelle said last year was the first year that numerous organizations were invited, with the mission of collaboration among them.

“It’s one of my favorite events of the year,” she said. “It’s not often that we have the opportunity to get 160 student leaders together to talk about issues at Lehigh, to come up with an action plan and ways to effect change. It’s pretty incredible to see that many students who are passionate about Lehigh.”

Though the retreat’s cancellation may not have afforded students the opportunity to leave campus, many organizations have chosen to hold “mini-retreats” to accomplish the goals they had set for the weekend.

“I think each group individually and on their own made the best of the situation,” said Class of 2015 President John Schultz, who was part of the “mini-retreat” that brought together the class officers, the Association of Student Alumni executive board and the Lehigh Liners.

Schultz recognized the hard work that goes into planning for the program and said the Camp Hawk leaders had been training for the past year for this weekend, but were forced to have their retreat locally.

Students seemed to find that hosting the event in a different environment allows typical barriers to break down and for unlikely students and groups to meet and collaborate. But, according to Schultz, the students have managed to adapt.

“The student leaders are very flexible,” he said.  “And when this stuff happens, it’s very unfortunate.”

Before the retreat’s cancellation, Madeleine Smith, ’15, spoke about the importance of putting together all of the leaders on campus in one place and how it helps in planning and focusing for the future.

Smith attended the retreat last year with the OSLD as a coordinator of the event. She is on the swim team and, after attending last year, realized the need for student-athletes to participate in the conversations that take place there.

She said she spoke with another student at the retreat last year who was involved in Greek life and who was also a ropes course facilitator. The student ran the ropes course for the swim team, and he told Smith that he was dreading working with the team because he thought they would be “too cool” for the ropes course.

“But the team had a great time, so that kind of shifted his perception of athletics,” Smith said.

Smith said that athletes often have the same stereotype about students in Greek life.

“It’s not true, but it’s funny how we all put each other in groups,” she said. “That’s why I was so passionate about bringing athletics this year, because it’s important to bridge the gap. It’s important for our future to be thinking more about the bigger Lehigh.”

Though the location may have changed, the nature of what the retreat was intended to be was not lost on the almost-attendees.

Schultz said  that those involved in the “mini-retreat” walked out feeling like a tighter group.

The planned activities for the weekend were geared toward the goals of togetherness and inclusion. One of the group events, the Hot Topics discussion, was intended to focus on issues that students consider to be important on campus. Groups of students from different organizations broke off to have the discussions.

“It’s to start a conversation that can hopefully continue so change can be made on our campus,” Kyle Lum, ’15, said.

Lum has attended the Great Pocono Escape for three years. He went as a first-year student for Camp Hawk and has been every year since for different programs. This year, he would have represented the OSLD as a coordinator.

Lum said the Great Pocono Escape helps students gain an appreciation for what others are doing at Lehigh. When you see that person on campus, he said, you feel closer to them and are more likely to reach out to them if your organizations can work together in some capacity.

“It fosters a more inclusive and connected community in general,” Lum said.

Not only were students looking forward to their weekend at camp, but some believe that the change in environment is integral in achieving the goals they set in advance. Stephanie Piscopo, ’16, the secretary of Student Senate, said their group finds having the retreat at camp beneficial because it allows students to focus exclusively on the tasks at hand.

“The benefit of going away is tremendous,” Piscopo said. “We separate from Lehigh, and you only focus on why you’re there. When you’re (at camp)…you’re only concerned about what you have to do there. Not homework, not your social life, it’s in the moment.”

Student Senate planned to use the time at the retreat to work with the executive boards of other leadership groups and make connections. Piscopo said now they plan to invite those groups to their executive meetings and hope to attend other groups’ meetings.

“I think we will be able to put a dent into some of the goals we were planning on accomplishing,” Piscopo said. “But it won’t be as easy.”

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