Using Spring Break to focus on learning about and serving others

Many are using Spring Break to focus on service, human rights, civil rights and more.

people around the world illustration

people around the world illustrationDuring spring break, many SMU students, faculty and staff are using their time off to focus on service, human rights, civil rights and more. Many of the groups are sharing their experiences on the SMU Adventures blog. Trips planned for March 14-18, 2011, include:

Alternative Spring Break, United States and Ecuador

SMU has participated in Alternative Spring Break for 22 years, with students serving community organizations while learning about issues such as the environment, poverty, public health and education. Led by the Office of Leadership and Community Involvement, students, faculty and staff this year are traveling to:

  • Crawfordville, Florida, to study environmental restoration and serve at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge;
  • Taos, New Mexico, to work with children and on a farm at a rural charter school;
  • Los Angeles, to work in the food bank and housing section at AIDS Project Los Angeles, which serves men, women and children with HIV and AIDS;
  • Eastern Tennessee, to focus on rural community development, including education and service on an Indian reservation;
  • Boston, to serve the homeless and persons in need at Boston Rescue Mission;
  • Atlanta, to serve at a homeless shelter;
  • Ecuador, to volunteer with children.

“Alternative Breaks create positive change in our participants as well as in the communities where we work,” says Matthew Gayer, director of the Alternative Breaks program and a junior majoring in public policy, economics and political science. “These trips teach students about active citizenship and social injustice, while providing life-changing experiences.”

SMU Civil Rights Pilgrimage, American South

The Civil Rights Pilgrimage's eight-day bus ride takes students, faculty and staff to visit the American South’s civil rights landmarks and leaders in the movement. The group’s stops include Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas; the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama; Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King served as pastor; Tuskegee Institute; the campus of Ole Miss in Oxford; and the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where Dr. King was assassinated.

“In the course of our journey, we meet numerous ‘keepers of history,’ including the former leaders of the bus boycott and voting rights marches,” says political science Professor Dennis Simon, who leads the pilgrimage with SMU’s Chaplain’s Office. “These are people whose lives and stories give life – in the here and now – to what we read and see in our study of the civil rights movement. Their character, faith and willingness to share their experiences help us understand the inner strength required to kill Jim Crow.”

Human Rights Education Program, Germany

Students, faculty and staff are visiting Holocaust sites in Germany, including concentration camps at Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Neuengamme and Ravensbruck, as well as Hitler’s Munich headquarters, the site of the Wannsee Conference outside Berlin and two Nazi euthanasia facilities in Berlin.

Rick Halperin, director of the Human Rights Education Program in Dedman College, leads the program’s spring break trips to Holocaust sites across Europe, which have included visits to Austria and the Czech Republic; Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia; and Belgium and France. The program last visited Germany in 2007. He also has led winter trips to Polish death camps since 1996, as well as summer trips to sites including Rwanda, Argentina, Cambodia and South Africa.

Halperin says that in Germany, the group will pay its respects at Holocaust sites to those who survived and those who did not. “My goal for us is to remember that sacrifice, and to realize that the struggle for a better world is just as important today as it was during the dark days of World War II and the Holocaust,” he says. “Winning the war has not yet equated to winning the struggle for human rights and a better and safer world. We visit these places to remind us how much needs to be done.”

Medieval Studies, Spain

As part of the Cultural Formations course “Medieval Ideas: Ideas, Ideologies, and Images of Medieval Toledo,” students are traveling to Spain with Jeremy Adams, professor of history in Dedman College; Pamela Patton, associate professor of art history in Meadows School of the Arts; and Bonnie Wheeler, director of Medieval Studies in Dedman College. The course, which has introduced students to the major works of medieval Spanish, has held courses at the Meadows Museum in conjunction with the exhibition “The Lost Manuscripts from the Sistine Chapel.”

In Spain, the group will focus on the multiple cultures of medieval Toledo, as revealed through the city’s architecture, literature and monuments.

Political Science, Washington

Undergraduate students of American constitutional law typically read cases, study opinions, assess votes and coalitions on the Supreme Court, and read the work of judicial scholars relevant to the subject matter of the class, says political science Professor Joe Kobylka. However, because of the support of the Richter Foundation and the SMU Honors Program, students in the political science seminar “Law, Politics, and the Supreme Court,” are spending six days in Washington, D.C., doing research on the papers of former Supreme Court Justices housed in the Library of Congress.  

Each student in the seminar has developed an independent research topic and question, designed a study to answer that question and will combine this field research with more traditional sources of information to produce a paper that will be an original piece of academic scholarship.  Toward the end of the semester, the students will present their research to their peers in the seminar and take their comments into account when fashioning their final 25- to 30-page thesis paper. 

“Unless they go to college in or around Washington, D.C., and perhaps not even then, undergraduates seldom have the opportunity to do this kind of original archival research,” says Kobylka, who teaches the seminar and is leading the students to the Library of Congress. “This access to the papers of Justices will give the students a chance to develop and test hypotheses about judicial behavior, legal development and their interaction with the larger political environment of which they are a part. They will not just be consuming scholarship; they will be creating it.”

Art History, Los Angeles

Participants in a graduate art history seminar, "Modern Mexico in the Expanded Field," are conducting an on-site research trip to Los Angeles, led by Roberto Tejada, the Distinguished Endowed Chair in Art History in Meadows School of the Arts. The course has looked at the art histories of 20th-century Mexico and Southern California, pursuing perspectives that transcend national geographies and traditional narratives, Tejada says.

In Los Angeles, the group will explore Mexican, Mexican-American and Latino urban space and culture. Highlights include a Getty Center conference, "Between Theory and Practice: Rethinking Latin American Art in the 21st Century”; a discussion with SMU’s Adam Herring, associate professor of art history, who will lead a visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s pre-Columbian collection and a special exhibit at the Getty Research Center; a trip to Watts Towers; a visit to José Clemente Orozco's Prometheus murals at Pomona College, the Chicano murals of Estrada Court in East LA, The Great Wall of Los Angeles and the Chicano Park murals of San Diego; as well as the art galleries of Bergamot Station, Chinatown, Culver City and mid-Wilshire.

Outdoor Adventures, Grand Canyon National Park

As part of the Outdoor Adventures program at Dedman Center for Lifetime Sports, students and staff will spend five days backpacking in Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, covering roughly 20 miles. They plan to immerse themselves in the history, ecology and wonder of the desert landscape along the Tonto Plateau.

Albert Mitugo, the coordinator for Outdoor Adventures, says that trip participants gain self-awareness as well as a break from the hustle and bustle of campus life. “In visiting such places and experiencing firsthand the breathtaking sites, the hard ground upon which we sleep, the fresh air, the natural history, the physical exertion and the sheer enormity of the Grand Canyon, we cannot help but respect the men and women who fight for preservation of pristine wilderness areas for enjoyment by future generations,” he says.

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