When Associate Dean of Student Development Jodi Thesing-Ritter put together the very first Civil Rights Pilgrimage in 2008, she knew she wanted it to be student-led.
“Anything that impacts students should be developed and implemented by students,” Thesing-Ritter said.
She’s been true to her word: the most recent pilgrimage, which took place over spring break, was assembled and led entirely by six students.
The trip, a ten-day pilgrimage to the Deep South to follow the civil rights trail and explore the history behind the movement, has grown considerably since its advent in 2008. Back then, the excursion hosted 47 participants. Last week’s trip, the ninth since the program began, required two coach buses to carry all 109 travelers, according to Thesing-Ritter. Those 109 travelers participated in a trip completely crafted by the six coordinators.
“We divided (the trip) into the cities we’re each most interested in,” said student coordinator Jackie Lee, a junior. “We have the general itinerary and we’re responsible for making reservations, finding places for people to eat.”
In addition to Lee’s list, the student coordinators also plan stops and events for the week, facilitate discussion while on the trip, keep track of the travelers, and
“We continue to assess the trip and we have added elements over time that have helped to increase multicultural and intercultural competence and knowledge based on our assessments,” Thesing-Ritter said.
Altering discussion questions as well as being intentional about the movies picked and the speakers selected has helped reap greater change over the course of the trip, Thesing-Ritter said.
“That’s what the research is for,” said student coordinator Mathias Hughey, a senior. “We’re hoping to see statistically significant results so we can start to address the trip in a manner that’s more about the experience and the impact it has on the students who are involved.”
Thesing-Ritter described the group of students as a “well-oiled machine.” Student coordinator Elsa Kraus, a senior, agreed.
“As a whole, we definitely function collaboratively,” said Kraus of the group’s planning and research. “It’s a really awesome experience in that it is student-empowered.”
The most recent pilgrimage took place March 16 through 25. Follow the trip’s itinerary, see photos, and read about the experiences of the students on the pilgrimage at http://uweccivilrightspilgrimage.blogspot.com
Junior, third pilgrimage
Coordinated Little Rock/Memphis
How did you get involved? Nick encouraged me to go, and I went last spring and really loved it. It kind of changed something inside of me and I wanted to help other people experience that
What is your favorite stop on your leg of the trip? I really like stopping at Little Rock Central High School, we talk to a variety of different people and just the building itself is so massive. You’re literally standing on the steps of history.
Senior, fourth pilgrimage
How did you get involved? (A friend and I)both took the class together (Women of the Civil Rights Movement) and went on the pilgrimage together and it was awesome. Talking to Jodi, I was passionate about research with my psych major and my women’s (studies) major and so it fit right in, so she offered me to join her team.
What is your favorite stop on your leg of the trip? (Meeting with) Charles Person (a Freedom Rider) is an addition that we added last winter. He’s definitely amazing. The Freedom Rides were incredibly impactful and significant in making changes in the Civil Rights Movement and propelling it forward. It’s a hard story to come to terms with, but it’s a really nice addition to the trip.
Senior, third pilgrimage
Coordinated New Orleans/Little Rock/Memphis
How did you get involved? I was the male RA for the social justice learning community in Sutherland. One of the planned activities for the year was that we would go on the civil rights pilgrimage so that was the first time I went on it. I think it’s the best thing I did in college.
What is your favorite stop on your leg of the trip? Little Rock, when we go to the school and across the street is the Memorial Center. It’s so saddening and fascinating, that part of our history. Just seeing how not only the Little Rock Nine were treated, but how the people that stood up for them and spoke up for them … It speaks so much about the times and the place.
Senior, fifth pilgrimage
How did you get involved? I actually got involved by going on my first trip as a non-Eau Claire student. A friend of mine was at Eau Claire and I decided it sounded like a great experience and I somehow got to join the class and go on the trip over my winter break (while a student at UW-Green Bay).
What is your favorite stop on your leg of the trip? Going to the service at Ebenezer Baptist Church. I think it shows what our potential is in society, how welcoming they are to us. Just the fact that (the congregation) can all be there and be so welcoming and be so happy … if we translated those worldviews, the world would be such a better place.
Junior, third pilgrimage
Coordinated Selma/New Orleans
How did you get involved? I went on the trip last spring and saw the impact it had on a lot of people and myself. I wanted to be a part of … the reconstruction of people’s perceptions of the world.
What is your favorite stop on your leg of the trip? I really like the bus tour of New Orleans, the 9th Ward tour. It’s a magnificent city and just to see the effects of Hurricane Katrina … I want to help out.
Senior, third pilgrimage
How did you get involved? Last spring, Elsa talked me into coming on the trip with her. It didn’t really require much persuasion at all. It sounded like something I’d be interested in doing. I loved it, decided that I wanted to coordinate.
What is your favorite stop on your leg of the trip? I love walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I … think (Selma is) one of the most powerful days of the trip.