University of Vermont

University Communications


Bringing Summer Break Back to Campus

By the view Staff Article published November 12, 2002

The format was a little hokey — think "What I Did During My Summer Vacation" classed up with PowerPoint — but the enthusiasm of the three students and two staff facilitators for their service-learning trip to Georiga and Alabama came through clearly in a Nov. 6 presentation at Living/Learning.

A total of eight students participated in the "Alternative Summer Break," the first time the burgeoning volunteer service program had sponsored a summer excursion. The group visited Birmingham and Atlanta from May 11 to May 18, combining visits to historical monuments with work serving meals at an urban ministry and preparing a needy woman's home for painting.

Trip organizer Andrew Feldman, assistant director of community service, also required that trip participants "bring the trip back to campus." In addition to the evening presentation at Living-Learning, students led an intense two-hour-plus, discussion in a race and culture class.

The three students at the Living-Learning evening talk — Michael Merrigan, Jennifer Marquis and Annie Willis — agreed that the opportunity to briefly immerse themselves in an unfamiliar physical and cultural landscape to explore race relations was valuable, as was the opportunity to see civil rights monuments first-hand.

"Being there made everything seem very real," said Merrigan. His experiences on the trip, he added, helped contribute to a decision to change his major. "I want a field where I can help people directly," he said. "I'm changing at least in part because of the trip."

Junior Jen Marquis also found the trip enlightening, particularly in conversations with area residents who had lived through the events the students were studying. She is still struck, she said, by a short conversation with a man playing at the park with his son.

"He told us that they were going to solve their race problems in the South before people in the Northeast even realize that we also have a problem, " she said.

Encouraging those kind of personal interactions, those moments where history becomes personal and immediate rather than distant and abstract, was a primary goal of the trip's organizers.

"We spent the entire trip dancing with our comfort zones," said Troy Headrick, a residential life staff member who was the trip's co-facilitator. "Sometimes we pushed ourselves in the right direction, and sometimes we didn't. We'll try to do better next year."

The alternative break program is growing, with a winter trip to Oaxaca set for January (see this story for information on a Art Auction that will help fund that trip) and another Southern visit planned for the summer of 2003.