Spring Break for Social Change

by Timothy Yang | 2/28/18 2:51am

Every year, students may elect to participate in an alternative spring break trip to Washington D.C., organized through the William Jewett Tucker Center. Students on this year’s trip are prompted to explore the intersection of “Race, Faith, and Justice,” a theme that seeks to explore the narratives and issues of race and justice that are present in the capital’s metropolitan area.

“The trip is almost like a pilgrimage ­— it’s a quest for [students] to better understand their own values around religion and their own values around race,” Leah Torrey, the multi-faith advisor at the Tucker Center, said.

Students of all religious, spiritual and moral backgrounds are welcomed on the ASB trip.

“When we say ‘religion’ around the Tucker Center, we have a very broad understanding of what that means,” Torrey explained. “So there are people on the trip who are atheists, there are people who are agnostic and there are people who have particular practices. It’s a very diverse group that is going on the trip.”

Students participating in the trip will have the opportunity to explore race and justice through discussion.

“The entire time, the students are being asked really tough questions.” Torrey said. “They also do group reflections, and they do individual reflections where they do some free writing. It is a deeply reflective activity.”

Throughout the trip, students reflect upon their engagements with various organizations that deal with issues of justice, race and faith.

“We’ll visit five different houses of worship, representing five different religious traditions, and we’ll also visit people across D.C. ... to understand how their values intersect with their pursuit of justice, particularly around racial justice,” Torrey said.

Torrey explained that this year, the group will observe five forms of worship, including Islamic Jum’ah, Jewish Shabbat, Hindu Puja, Sunday Christian church worship and a Buddhist seated meditation practice. The students will also visit several museums, monuments and historical sites around D.C. to examine the national narratives around race and justice as well as engage with professionals to further discuss the issues of race, faith and justice.

The students will meet congresswoman Ann Kuster ’78 and the staff members of some congresspeople in order to discuss how values influence policy making, especially in regards to racial justice, according to Torrey. Furthermore, some civil rights lawyers will meet with the students to talk about how their values have helped them pursue careers in justice.

Torrey said that there are three integral pieces to the ASB trip experience. First, it’s important for students to get first-hand experiential knowledge of what worship looks like, particularly in communities and for students to recognize the diversity within religion and across religions. Second, students get a chance to understand the national narratives around race, including through monuments and museums. Lastly, students examine how these understandings are played out in a person’s vocation and how someone takes those into the world and enact justice.

“So, they get to explore not only religious rituals and practices and community and values, but they also get a chance to understand how people put their values into vocational practices talking about justice, particularly racial justice,” Torrey said.

Makisa Bronson ’20, the student coordinator of this year’s ASB, added that reflections and discussions would be prompted during the trip for students to better internalize the values behind the intersection of race, faith and justice.

“We’ll talk about what do the racial dynamics in the space look like, why do they look like that, what narratives of race exists in the city,” Bronson said. “No matter what space we are in at any given moment on the trip, we are always going to be thinking about how those three topics intersect and collide and how they affect one another.”

Even before spring break, the students who are going on the ASB trip are already engaging in reflection and discussions. Every week, the students take two hours to examine one religious tradition or explore one aspect of justice or race that they will encounter through pre-trip workshops.

“During every week of winter term, they need to prepare for the heavy topics that will be discussed and engaged with later on,” Bronson said. “So, it is a really powerful experience that they get to have once they get to D.C.”

Bronson participated in an ASB trip herself last year.

“It was a really amazing transformative experience,” Bronson said. “[It] probably [was] one of the most eye-opening experiences that I’ve had in that period of time.”

Bronson enjoyed spending time at Howard University — a historically black university — because it impressed her that its space was drastically different from the space that Dartmouth presents. She was also amazed by U Street in D.C., as it is vital to the history of the city’s African-American community and discussions about gentrification issue and community resistance. Being able to meet with both Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ’88’s staff and Kuster’s staff was an exciting experience, she said.

“We got to see how the dynamic of the capital was functioning or what not, and just kind of try to be an active part of that process,” Bronson said. “I would say as a whole, the trip really tries to tie in all parts of, you know, educating ourselves on these really important and relevant issues, and then putting those education sessions and this new knowledge into action.”

Coming from a background with little interaction with religion, Bronson reflected that it was only after coming to Dartmouth and being exposed to many more religious and faith-based lifestyles and experiences that she started to contemplate more on the issues of faith and justice. She applied to the ASB program in the fall term of her freshman year because she knew the trip would help her explore topics that she had a growing interest in.

“[The trip] was probably one of the most powerful experiences that I’d ever have,” Bronson said. “And not just because of a place that we visited, or the conversations that we had, but also because of the outstanding people that also went on the trip with me.”

Bronson explained that she got involved as the student coordinator for ASB this year because of the connections she made, the conversations she has had with the friends she made on the trip and the experience of the journey itself.

“The fact that this experience was so important and powerful for me that were really what motivated me to see if I can continue being involved with this experience,” Bronson said. “And hopefully to help create as amazing an experience as I had for the people that would go on the trip for the future.”

Two students who are attending the ASB trip this year, Ameena Razzaque ’21 and Sirajum Sandhi ’21, expressed their excitements and concerns as well as what they hope to gain from the trip.

“For the ASB trip coming up, I really can’t expect anything, because so far from the conversations I have had with [Torrey], she said that it’s just a time of really deep personal growth and function for a person,” Razzaque said. “And so I’m really excited to go through that.”

Razzaque has never been to Washington D.C. before and is looking forward to exploring the capital city for the first time, in addition to getting to know her trip mates and having in-depth conversations about religion and identity. Moreover, she is excited to meet with people from Capitol Hill.

Sandhi said that growing up in Bangladesh, she was surrounded by people who share the same faith in a homogeneous society. She hopes the trip will help her better understand where others are coming from and why they believe in what they believe in.

As the multi-faith advisor, Torrey noticed that one common thread across all religions is a call for contemplating and enacting justice. Therefore, in organizing this year’s and the two previous years’ ASB programs, she dives into the issues concerning racial justice.

“Race is an issue where we haven’t seen justice lived out in the United States, so I feel really called into to help repair the inequities and to use what privilege I have to protect a better world, to create equity, to create a world where we recognize the dignity of every person fully, for full-human dignity,” Torrey said. “So I think that’s a question a lot of students are asking themselves too: How can they be a person who helps repair the world, particularly around the issues of race?”