Stepping into freedom’s footprint

Students and staff prepare for Civil Rights Pilgrimage this winter and spring

What resident assistants started in Putnam Hall has grown to be a seemingly popular way for UW-Eau Claire students to spend winterim or spring break.

When the Civil Rights Pilgrimage started in 2008, 42 people went on one bus. Four of the nights were spent on the bus, one night in a resident hall and the rest in hotels. The trip cost $200 and was only offered as an alternative spring break.

Now, the Civil Rights Pilgrimage is offered for 10 days during winterim and nine days during spring break. The dates in winterim 2015 are Jan. 9-19, and the spring break trip is March 20-29, and each have nine stops on the trip.

Associate Dean of Students Jodi Thesing-Ritter said planning for the trips starts well before the academic school year starts. In fact, planning usually begins in May or April — only a month or two after the spring break trip.

“I have a team of eight coordinators who help plan every element of the trip,” Thesing-Ritter said. “And then I have a team of seven student researchers who will do faculty-student collaborative research on the learning that happens on the trip.”

Since the start of the school year, there have been weekly meetings between the coordinators and Thesing-Ritter. Among the eight coordinators, Karen Dominguez and Jack Junker help plan what students will do during the ten days.

“Each coordinator takes a leg of the trip,” Dominguez said. “So usually it’s two cities. I book … the things we go to, like museums. We call people, too.”

Junker and Dominguez are working together to plan the portion of the trip when students arrive in Selma, Ala., Gulfport, Miss., and New Orleans. Both students have been on the trip multiple times.

Junker said he likes planning because he likes watching people’s lives change.

“It’s definitely a lot of hard work,” Junker said. “But at the same time, very rewarding to think that college students … can help change people’s lives for the better, and open their eyes as well.”

Dominguez said she likes meeting new people and watching them feel the ‘aha’ moment.

“It’s amazing to realize and see that nothing’s really changed,” she said. “There’s so much change that needs to happen … socially. Some people think that racism doesn’t exist, but it still does.”

In addition to the trip, students could opt to enroll in WMNS 222: Women and the Civil Rights Movement. The course is offered during winterim before and after the trip, and throughout second semester. In addition to earning three credits in the GE III category, students have an opportunity to gain 15 service learning hours with the course.

Dominguez said if anyone is on the fence about going, it’s best just to go and experience the trip.

“It’s super fun,” she said. “It’s worth the money, and you get to do so many things within the week’s time. You’ll meet so many people with the same interests as you. You’ll never regret it.”

Registration for the Civil Rights Pilgrimage starts this Monday. In order to secure a spot on either of  the busses, a $75 deposit is required. Students can go to the Office of Multicultural Affairs in Centennial Hall 1106 to register.