In 1993, a group of staff and students at Colorado State University came together in response to the need for a forum for students to discuss issues of social justice. In 1994, the first CSU Multicultural Leadership Retreat was held. It has been held every year since. In 2002, two former participants and facilitators of the CSU MLR both came to UVM, one as a staff member, the other as a grad student, and saw a need for a similar program here. Many on campus were asking for just such a forum and the university mission and common ground clearly stated that inclusive community and understanding of cultural diversity were priorities.
These two individuals brought together a group of staff, faculty, and students from various locations on campus who revised the CSU program and made it applicable to UVM. Even in its first year, participants had to be turned away as the interest in such a program was so high - in its first year in 2003, UVM’s retreat (then called 'Next Step') hosted 53 students.
For the first five years of the program, a planning committee of retreat alumni, past facilitators, and UVM professional staff spent a year planning the logistics, the curriculum, and fundraising the significant costs of the retreat.
In 2007, the Department of Student Life took on overseeing the program more formally, providing funding and staff logistical support. In 2009, the retreat secured its place as part of Leadership & Civic Engagement programs (now Civic Engagement programs) in Student Life and in 2021 was renamed the Social Justice Grounding Retreat: Building Roots in Compassion, Equity, and Justice. With the support of two logistical staff members, a team of 8-10 members of campus on the advisory committee, and the involvement of past alumni, the Social Justice Grounding Retreat has since established itself as a foundational experience for members of the UVM community, and is dedicated to involving as many UVM folks as possible in this special experience for years to come.