Students pose while working during a Habitat for Humanity serve trip. Lehigh offers a variety of Spring Break serve trips. (photo courtesy of the Community Service Office)

Coursework, service offers alternative spring break opportunities for students


For many Lehigh students, the words “spring break” might bring images of white sandy beaches and parties, but for some groups on campus, this year’s spring break will be more service-oriented.

Two trips in particular: The Civil Rights Experience and the International Social Entrepreneurship class trip, will provide students with an opportunity to expand their learning horizons outside of the classroom and create hands-on experiences.

The Civil Rights Experience, organized by the Africana studies program, will immerse students in historic sites critical to the Civil Rights movement in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee. The trip is funded and supported by the MLK Committee, the Office of the Provost and the Office of Academic Diversity.

The trip will consist of a four-day driving excursion, highlighting sites important to the Civil Rights movement, such as the National Civil Rights Museum.

“I looked at our programming for this semester,” said Dr. James Peterson, the director of Lehigh’s Africana Studies Program. “We have Michelle Alexander for our MLK piece, we’re doing a huge Malcolm X conference next week, and I felt like we should do some kind of capstone to that. We have these courses, we have these great programs, how do we cap that off?”

Peterson said he thought organizing an alternative spring break trip would be able to do just that. He chose Memphis as the location for this trip because it was a main site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work toward the end of his life. It was also the location of his assassination.

Peterson explained that King was in Memphis at the time of his assassination working with sanitation workers who were on strike.

“So a lot of times people think of (MLK) as this sort of hero for racial equity and racial justice, which is true, but at the point at which he was assassinated, he was really beginning to focus on the economics and the class issues that he saw dividing America long-term and that’s the work that he was engaged in,” Peterson said. “It’s not just the site where he died, it’s the site where we can get a deeper understanding of the broad range of the social justice issues that he was actually committed to.”

Katerina Traut, ’17, a political science and Africana studies major who plans on attending the trip, heard about the trip to Memphis from Peterson during the fall semester. She is currently taking Professor Ted Morgan’s Social Movements and Legacies class, which coincides well with the goals of The Civil Rights Experience.

“The big part of the class is being able to transport yourself back in time to that time period and really feel, understand and be able to empathize with the people and those serious moments during the movement that made it what it was,” Traut said.

Traut also said that she hopes she’ll be able to gain a better understanding of the movement and the individuals who were part of it.

Before heading to Memphis, Peterson said those on the trip will visit the historically black Fisk University in Nashville. Once in Memphis the students will see a historically black church, be given a Memphis barbecue dinner, and visit the Lorraine Motel—the site of King’s assassination.

Along with the trip organized by Peterson, Mark Orrs, the director of Sustainable Development and a professor of practice in the political science department, will also be taking Lehigh students on a trip during spring break. Twelve students from his International Social Entrepreneurship class will be going to India to work with five nonprofit organizations.

“The course entails seven weeks of preparation, including initial work with our on-ground partners, before we make a short-term immersion trip to India over the spring break,” Orrs said in an email. “The remaining 7 weeks of the course are spent producing a deliverable to benefit our partner social ventures.”

Jenn Chow, ’15, will be working with “Dream a Dream,” an organization focused on providing educational opportunities and life skills in Bangalore.

“The goal of the trip is to work with the nonprofits,” Chow said. “We’re looking at the social media side of it, getting tangible video and documents of one to three students who have gone to the programs in order to get more funding. India is really getting into social media now.”

Orrs said the students will be spending time in Kerala and Bangalore.

“All students are exposed to each of the social ventures we work with in great depth, and some additional ones as well,” Orrs said. “Students also use the time to collaborate more closely with their particular project partner to assist in the completion of their course deliverable for the venture partners.”

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