Student participants of Alternative Spring Break trips gathered recently with faculty, peers and representatives from local agencies to explore opportunities for continued engagement in the social issues they investigated during their March break.
The evening event was called Perspectives, the culminating event of the ASB program. Perspectives allowed participants a space for reflection as they considered their roles as advocates and allies to those with whom they worked.
The ASB program — along with the Alternative Winter Break program — sends students on weeklong service-focused trips led and planned entirely by students. In destinations both domestic and abroad, students learn firsthand about social issues they encounter in the classroom — such as poverty and educational gaps — while serving as volunteers to organizations in need.
Andrew Lardie, associate director for service and leadership at the McKeen Center opened the event with a reference to “To Hell With Good Intentions,” an essay by Ivan Illich critiquing voluntary service activities — especially those conducted internationally. One passage in the essay says, “In fact, you cannot even meet the majority which you pretend to serve in Latin America — even if you could speak their language, which most of you cannot. You can only dialogue with those like you — Latin American imitations of the North American middle class. There is no way for you to really meet with the underprivileged, since there is no common ground whatsoever for you to meet on.”
Using this critique as a springboard, Lardie asked trip participants to discuss the intricacies of “pursuing connection with those we meet in our work, especially people we meet with experiences not like our own.” Though students acknowledged that being in the community for only a short period of time limited their ability for true connection, some remarked that the cultural difference was not always inherent to the trips. “I felt very comfortable there,” said one participant of the Immokalee, Fla., trip during the discussion. “It’s a lot like the community I was raised in. I was talking to one of my friends on the trip and he was saying that [Immokalee] feels more like home than Bowdoin does.” Other participants managed to make and maintain deeper connections to those they served by returning to the communities. “Going back a second time seemed a lot more real,” said Preston Thomas ’17 who led the Atlanta, Ga., trip this year after participating in it last year.
Lardie also challenged the group to consider what role they had in disseminating the stories they had encountered on their ASB trips. Many expressed that is was important to be an advocate and correct misconceptions while being careful not to make generalizations. Skyler Folks ’15, a leader of the Immokalee trip, remarked that it was important to remember that one is “not just representing a group of people, but individuals.”
This year’s ASB groups traveled to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Pleasant Point in Maine, Florida, Atlanta, San Francisco and Guatemala City. Throughout their trips, many of the students documented their experiences on social media. Bowdoin gathered their impressions here.https://storify.com/BowdoinCollege/bowdoin-alternative-spring-break-takes-off
The Jon and Barbara Brightman Alternative Spring Break Fund provides support for the annual trips.
Exploring Educational Capital in D.C.
Participants examined the issue of urban poverty and its connections to education in the nation’s capital by combining the study of educational policy with hands-on volunteer experience with agencies that provide educational support. Leaders: Tom Read ’15 and Olivia Paone ‘15
Call to Action in Philadelphia
Participants learned what it takes to build stronger neighborhoods in Philadelphia through on-the-ground service with housing and community development organizations, and through engagement with local advocacy groups who work to combat inequality in public policy. Leaders: Anna Cumming ’15 and Jacqueline Uranga ’15
Learning and Living with the Passamaquoddy (Pleasant Point, Maine)
Students gained insight into Native American communities in Maine by working in a local elementary school and interacting with community members of the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Tribe.
This trip is fully financed by the President’s Office as part of the Bowdoin-Colby-Bates Wabanaki Collaborative. Leaders: Lane Sturtevant ’15 and Abby Roy ’16
Cultivating Communities in Immokalee, Florida
Participants engaged in hands-on work and communication with working migrant families Immokalee. Key issues addressed on this trip included the impact of poverty and income inequality on immigrants’ access to housing, education and social services. Additionally, students explored the roles that cultural traits such as language have on shaping immigrants’ identity and experience.
Leaders: Edward Mahabir ’15 and Skyler Folks ’15
Refugee Resettlement in Atlanta, Georgia
Students assisted refugees on the path to resettlement, from citizenship to education to job placement. They met individual refugees of all backgrounds and left with insight into many refugee narratives.
Leaders: Preston Thomas ’17 and Alex Sukles ’17
Understanding Sexuality and Gender in San Francisco, Calif.
Students explored issues of gender and sexuality through multiple forms of service with organizations varying from women’s shelters to queer youth centers in San Francisco. They investigated the historical, social, political and economic implications of these identities on individual equality and San Francisco communities. Leaders: Karl Reinhardt ’15 and Alice Wang ’15
Safe Passage to Guatemala, Guatemala City
Students assisted Safe Passage in its mission to serve the community surrounding the Guatemala City Garbage Dump by empowering families through education. Participants volunteered in English classrooms and engaged in creative projects aimed at fostering learning and team-building, while exploring local issues and the legacy of Hanley Denning ’92, who was the founder of Safe Passage.
Leaders: Dieu Ho ’15 and Kaylee Wolfe ’15