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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Students to learn about social justice on civil rights trip

Students to learn about social justice on civil rights trip

UTSA students at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, site of a civil rights era clash.

JANUARY 7, 2020 — Within a time span of five days a group of Roadrunners will visit some of the most historic sites from the nation’s civil rights movement with the hope of gaining new insights and bringing them back to their own communities. 

About 45 UTSA students are stepping on a bus today for the ninth annual Civil Rights and Social Justice Experience. 

“We take a busload of students to visit landmarks of the civil rights movement and to take a deep study of leadership through the lens of those stories,” said Eliot Howard, interim director of the Student Leadership Center. 

The students will start their trip in Louisiana by visiting the Whitney Plantation, where they’ll be guided through the 18th century plantation grounds and learn “about the forced labor system of a sugar and rice plantation.” Afterward, they’ll head to Jackson, Mississippi, for the Mississippi Museum of Civil Rights and William Winter Institute. 

“The entire duration of the trip we’re trying to tie everything to what students can do in a community when they get back.”

VINCENT PEREZ, Program Manager of UTSA's Student Leadership Center

Once in Selma, Alabama, they’ll even get to cross over the Edmund Pettus Bridge—the site of Bloody Sunday, in which protesters were brutally attacked in March 1965 on their march to Montgomery. While in Alabama the students will have the opportunity to experience the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Legacy Museum of African American History. 

“Some of the feedback we get from students is that it’s one thing to learn about different parts or moments or sites of the historic civil rights movement, but it’s a completely different thing to go and see them in person and learn about them from people who’ve lived that experience,” said Vincent Perez, program manager of the Student Leadership Center. “It’s emotionally charged and a very powerful journey to share with our students.” 

Along with the historical site visits, the Roadrunners will engage in group discussions, listen to guest speakers and watch different films, such as Freedom Riders, Cesar Chavez, and Selma. 

“Each year the itinerary changes in some little ways to keep the trip fresh. But the underlying curriculum and large group activities and discussions all focus on raising fluency and awareness about social justice, leadership, and leadership for social change,” Howard said. 

Lauren Horton, a senior studying public health, initially joined the Civil Rights and Social Justice Experience as a way to learn more about social justice and history. 

“Going on the trip last year was such a great and enriching experience and I was able to learn so much about our history and the fight for equality in our country,” she said. “This trip also helps you see the full picture of racial disparities and how our history still impacts many marginalized communities today.” 

Learn more about UTSA's Student Leadership Center.

For this year’s trip Horton has returned as a group facilitator to help the other students engage in discussions about what they’ve learned throughout their trip. 

“I felt like I could help provide leadership and facilitate good conversation between students that haven’t been on the trip,” Horton said. “Small group discussions are also a very important part of this trip and I felt like I could help my fellow Roadrunners with some very meaningful conversations about all that we’re learning.” 

While the Student Leadership Office focuses on helping “students explore and develop their leadership potential,” the trip goes even further, according to Perez. 

“The entire duration of the trip we’re trying to tie everything to what students can do in a community when they get back,” Perez said. “You know, how can they make a positive impact in the world they live in.” 

The students will have the opportunity to showcase what they learned at a reflection session that is open to the UTSA community from 5 to 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 27. 

“The students will highlight and share their experiences and each of the small groups will kind of present what they learned,” Howard said. “We’ve had students do slideshows or videos. We’ve had some groups do skits that were really powerful and dances. Those are probably some of our favorites. They’re really interactive and really engaging. It’s a really creative way to kind of express the knowledge you’ve gained on a trip.”

Valerie Bustamante

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