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Sun Devil Survivor: students coming together for a weekend of mud, sweat and tears

Sun Devil Survivor hosts one of Hope's largest annual events, a Labor Day weekend retreat to northern Arizona. 

Sun Devil Survivor hosts one of Hope's largest annual events, a Labor Day weekend retreat to northern Arizona. 

Faces painted and clothes splattered in mud, over 800 students traveled to Prescott at the end of August to compete in ASU's own version of "Survivor."

A branch of the Respect Movement, ASU's Sun Devil Survivor is an organization that allows students to join together for a simulated experience of the iconic reality show.

The Respect Movement is a large group of ASU students and alumni who focus on changing the statistic that one in four college students are sexually assaulted each year.

They started a group called Man Up for male students who support respecting women and getting rid of the current rape culture, and WOW (Women of Worth) Factor, which encourages girls to respect and value each other rather than tearing each other down.

According to the Respect Movement's website, over 3,500 students have pledged to respect each other, and they are working to increase that number each year.

One of the Movement's main events is Sun Devil Survivor, a three-day trip to the wilderness where students are broken off into tribes to compete against each other in various physical and mental activities.

Nursing sophomore Hannah Taylor said that there are many different types of competitions throughout the trip, which she said began around five years ago.

Taylor said that joining SDS and the Respect Movement at the beginning of her freshman year was one of the best decisions she has made.

"Because Sun Devil Survivor is done through the Respect Movement, it's not just the challenges that make the weekend special," Taylor said. 

"They have guest speakers as well who talk about the basis of the group and why we're really there. But you don't just learn about respect for that one weekend, it carries on throughout the year when you meet with your tribe once or twice a month," she said.

Taylor said she loves getting out and being active, but to her, the trip is much more important than that. She said the weekend in the woods is just an added bonus to the year-long impact the Respect Movement makes in her life and at ASU as a whole.

"My favorite part (of the trip) wasn't even the games and challenges they had for us," she said. "My favorite part was the bonfire the second night. Everyone bonded together to sing and dance, no matter what tribe they came from. It was a great time for us to just stop and remember why we're all there — to respect everyone as a human race."

Taylor said she encourages everyone to look into the program and consider joining as soon as possible for the various social benefits.

"This movement shaped my future," she said. "In college, this type of experience is where you meet lifelong friends and friends who are interested in the same things you are. If you go on a trip where you're playing around in the mud, you'll find other people who love to play in the mud. If you join the Respect Movement, you're going to find other people who want to facilitate respect in this generation. And that's so important."

There are five tribes, ranging in size from 85 to 105 members, representing various residential areas around the Tempe campus as well as a tribe representing the Downtown Phoenix campus. 

There are five tribes: DTC (the Downtown campus and Tempe's Arcadia dorm), Hassayampa, North Side (Palo Verde main, west, east and Manzanita), South Side (Vista del Sol) and East Side (Tempe's Barrett, the Honors College community).

The main SDS event is a three-day trip at the end of August, where students escape to the outdoors and get down and dirty in various wilderness competitions with their tribes. 

Taylor said the first day of the trip consisted of "dorm wars," where the different tribes compete in various activities against each other. She said that on the second day, the campers were broken up by gender and competed within those groups.

The tribes earned points depending on their standings in each competition, and the tribe with the highest score at the end of the trip was the winner.

This year's trip took place in Prescott from Aug. 26 to 28, but Sun Devil Survivor spans the year.

The tribes meet weekly throughout the year for tribe hangouts to get to know each other better and facilitate the friendships that they make on the trip.

"I've been involved (with Sun Devil Survivor) since the beginning of my freshman year," nursing sophomore Rene Wetzel said. "It was an amazing experience, and it completely reshaped the rest of my freshman year."

Her freshman year, Wetzel went on the SDS retreat as a participant. This year, she took on the role of room leader, helping to recruit new people and ensure that their experience with SDS was the best that it could be.

"My responsibility was basically just to get those girls (in my room) involved and comfortable and get them excited to go on a trip like this," she said. "I had those girls in my room, and then it was just kind of about developing relationships with them over the course of the trip and helping them intermingle with everyone else that was there."

Wetzel met her roommate on the SDS trip her freshman year and said that was what led her to become a room leader and help others form lasting relationships like the ones she had made. She said there is no better way to make friends than to go on a trip like this.

"You really get to know someone when you're wrestling them in the mud," Wetzel said.

Brooke Kibby, an education sophomore, participated in SDS for the first time this year, and she said it helped her to get out of her comfort zone and experience new things she usually would not have.

"My best friend was a tribe leader, and she asked me to come along as a part of her tribe, so of course I said yes," she said. "It was super fun. I made a ton of friends, and I will definitely do it again."

Kibby described herself as an introverted person who doesn't usually do the types of activities Sun Devil Survivor encourages, but she said the group was very welcoming and made the trip a very comfortable experience.

"I was really nervous I was going to make a fool of myself with all the mud and the wrestling and stuff," she said. "But everyone was so cool, I felt like I could do anything."

Nate McAdams, a biomedical and mechanical engineering sophomore, said that his two years as a member of SDS and the Respect Movement have given him nothing but positive memories.

"A lot of the friends I have now are through the Respect Movement or Sun Devil Survivor," he said. "I think it’s a great way to get connected, especially in the beginning of the year."

McAdams is an out-of-state student from Illinois, and he said that he felt lost before he joined SDS.

"I was struggling at the beginning of my freshman year because no one I knew went here," he said. "But after Sun Devil Survivor, I felt like I had a family."

McAdams was part of the North Side tribe, which just won the competition for the third year in a row this August. But they didn't just win the overall competition, they won the first-ever Romo Cup as well.

The Romo Cup was named after a former North Side tribe leader who lost his life this summer.

"One of our tribe members, Shawn Romo, passed away this summer," McAdams said. "As the tribe leader, he was always focused on winning the cup again, so it was really cool that we were able to win it and win the Romo Cup."

McAdams said everyone should take the leap and join SDS, because the experience is absolutely worth it.

"With all the memories and relationships that you gain, it's $95 well spent," he said.

To get involved with Sun Devil Survivor or the Respect Movement as a whole, visit the contact tab on their website,

Reach the reporter at or follow @alexisegeland on Twitter.

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