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Coming Full Circle: Embracing the past to learn about the future

March 14, 2011

Embracing the past to learn about the future

To understand the future there is a need to understand the past. Angie Hambrick, director of the Pacific Lutheran University Diversity Center, said too many people have forgotten the past.“We’re so wrapped up in our present,” she said. “There’s a connection between the past and what’s happening in the present. You can’t forget about history.”

Hambrick said it is the lack of historical knowledge that led to the development of this year’s Alternative Spring Break trip. Students will have the opportunity to travel to the south and learn about social movements through the program titled American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

This program is a civil rights tour designed to educate students about how the social movement began, what that meant for society and what it still means for society today.

“It’s really an exploration of social change and how social change occurs,” said Amber Baillon, assistant director of Student Involvement and Leadership and another staff member guiding students on the trip. “It is looking to our past to understand social change.”

Recent movements in the Middle East and North Africa make history about social change relevant and applicable. PLU is taking an active effort in educating students about social change and history’s impact on current society. Each year, the university offers the option for students to use spring break as an opportunity to learn and grow, and this year the theme focuses on one of the biggest social movements of American history.

Although the trip costs $900, she said the students will have the opportunity to fundraise through a letter-writing campaign.

Not only will the trip include visits to famous landmarks in Atlanta, Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma, but students will also have the opportunity to reflect on the role the media plays in current social movements.

Many of the revolutions in the Middle East have been sparked by social media, and the program coordinators are using this opportunity to show students the impact social media has on influencing a movement, and ultimately influencing change.

Hambrick said the students will be required to document their experiences via Twitter.

“By tweeting the whole experience students can see how that form of media plays a part in a movement,” she said. “I’m intrigued by Twitter because it’s so concise.”

This program is one part of a four-part series called Redefining Action, which was originally a grant proposal submitted by the university and earned a Quigg Award for Excellence and Innovation. The other components of the series include Tunnel of Oppression, visiting author Tim Wise and concluding with the Be The Spark event May 13 at the Tacoma Dome featuring Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

This collection of events creates a holistic program that gives students a foundation for examining a variety of social justice issues, relevant in today’s society, said Baillon.

“We’ve lined up this to help students experience social justice and action,” Baillon said. “Our goal is to teach people to be mindful and aware.”

Hambrick said there is a diverse range of students enrolled on the trip, and this will bring a variety of meaningful perspectives to the group. She said there is everyone from white students to students of color, first-years to seniors and students across disciplines.

First-year Laurie Reddy is majoring in social justice, and enrolled for the trip to learn the history behind the issues she is so passionate about.

“I want to dive right in and learn as much as possible,” she said. “Although we all hope to focus on the present and look to the future, I feel that you sometimes have to look back, to learn what worked and didn’t work, hoping to avoid the same recurrences in the future.”

Sophomore Malia Oshiro is studying to be a teacher, and a broad understanding of history in this country is something meaningful that she hopes to gain from this experience.

“Having the chance to experience all of the major museums from the Civil Rights movement, as well as visiting landmarks that were major milestones in the fight for Civil Rights, is really important to me as a future teacher,” she said.

Although many people receive Civil Rights lessons in school over the years, Hambrick said she still is surprise at how little people actually know about the issues regarding the Civil Rights Movement.

“This is an opportunity for students to think that maybe they didn’t understand everything they thought they did,” Hambrick said.

Hambrick said she is excited to learn alongside the students.

“I’ve never done a Civil Rights tour and I’m really excited to, along with the students, learn more about the movement,” she said.

Part of the weight of learning about such serious social issues, Baillon said, is figuring out where to move forward.

“Sometimes these issues seem so big and overwhelming,” she said. “Alternative Spring Break is designed to answer the ‘now what?’ question.”

Both Hambrick and Baillon said that the students will have the opportunity to brainstorm a way to share their experiences and knowledge with their peers at PLU.

“Doing nothing will isolate the experience,” Baillon said. “This will allow students to integrate the experience into their everyday lives.”

Oshiro said that is one aspect of the trip that is most meaningful for her, and she is passionate about not only gaining knowledge, but sharing that knowledge with her peers.

With the revolutions happening in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other areas of Northern Africa and the Middle East, Hambrick said this look into the past will help students understand the importance of what a social movement means for social change.

“Students will get a greater appreciation of what a movement can accomplish,” she said.