Total immersion into a poverty-stricken town with non-diverse schools and prejudiced communities does not sound like the typical spring break of a college student, but UNT students are trading sunny beaches for a chance to experience social injustices in Selma and cities around the country.
The school’s Center for Leadership and Service sponsors the Alternative Service Breaks (ASB) program, which provides students with an opportunity to truly understand “The Great Divide”, a belief in the separation between the “haves and the have-nots.”
“It changes you,” student Hannah Breland said. “Truly, I wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t go to Selma.”
For Breland, it became important for her to see an outside perspective because it helped her mature in a way that benefited her far more than a beach vacation.
“You see what giving back to the community or different communities can be like and it makes you want to go out and do more,” Rena Farlow, another student said.
Contrary to prior belief, a time in the school year designated for relaxation is a time that Farlow says is “the most enjoyable” because, like Breland, she believes her selfless actions not only assist other communities, but are important in moving towards progress.
Farlow jokingly adds that this progression is necessary “so that you’re not a confused mess everyday,” but in order for there to be change in our society people must branch out into communities that are different from their own.
Multicultural Center Assistant Director Damian Torres, recalls that before leaving the state of Texas he was unaware that even within the North Texas region there is a state of mind amongst its inhabitants.
“Actually going to the city and experiencing that firsthand puts it in a whole different perspective of civil rights,” he said.
Because it is so easy to remove ourselves from the reality of those we do not know, Torres views these trips as an opportunity to “advocate for those that cannot right now” whether it’s racial differences, gender inequalities, or unequal distribution of wealth.
Torres believes it is outside the classroom that students truly gain those life changing instances where they contribute to their community.
“You have four years here to make an impact and potentially to change your lives,” he said.
For students that aren’t yet convinced of the importance of participating in these trips, Torres had this to say, “Service is important, right? Social justices are important. These are the things that you’ll be working with and experiencing for the rest of your life. So what better way to give back immediately?”
Story by Itohan Osagie