April 23, 2018

Alternative Breaks Program Immerses Students in Global and Domestic Social Justice Issues

The Alternative Breaks Program (ABP), organized by the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), provides students with the opportunity to practice service and reflection on weekend and week-long immersion trips, both domestically and abroad.

Since its beginnings, ABP has expanded to its present-day total of 23 trips offered to students during breaks in the academic year, each with eight to 10 participants. Six of those trips are “Magis” trips offered in collaboration with Campus Ministry, which can involve a faith aspect or international immersion. Magis refers to the Ignatian ideal of “more.”

“The idea of the Magis is really important to the trips,” said Mollie Vita, the assistant director of immersion programs at the CSJ. “They emphasize learning about a new community, learning about each other as Georgetown students, and then really taking a dive into how you do all of that while thinking about Jesuit values and interfaith dialogue.”

'A HUMAN PERSPECTIVE'

The ABP tradition began in 1975 after a group of Georgetown undergraduate students spent their spring break on a service trip in Appalachia. The occasion inspired the CSJ to launch an official service-based program, allowing students to live out Jesuit values in solidarity with underserved communities.

“One big component of the international trips is that the students do a lot of fundraising for the trips. That’s definitely a big difference,” said Vita. “But I think there are a lot of similarities. Whether you’re in D.C. on an ABP trip or in Jamaica or India, you’re still really trying to immerse yourself into a new culture and a new community.”

On each of the international Magis trips, which are offered in India, Jamaica, and Mexico, two student leaders are joined by two Georgetown staff members, who serve to elevate discussion, prompt reflection, and provide logistic support.

Camille Bangug (SFS‘19) led the Magis: Kino Border Immersion trip in 2018 after participating her freshman year. Kino Border Immersion focuses on migration at the U.S.-Mexico border and involves travel in both countries.

“I originally joined the Kino Border Immersion ABP to understand the complex topic of immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, which is often abstracted by the politics that occur so close to our campus,” said Bangug. “Understanding immigration with a human perspective is more important now than ever before, and KBI provides students with the unique opportunity to gain that insight.”

IMMERSIVE GLOBAL JUSTICE EXPERIENCES

Michael White (C‘19) participated in the Magis: Jamaica trip this year, which examined the intersection of social issues and economic inequality in Mandeville, Jamaica.

“We helped local organizations with various tasks, like painting an early childhood school and organizing a medical clinic operated by a church,” said White. “We also visited the U.S. embassy in Kingston to learn about U.S. influence in Jamaica.”

When asked how spending a week with Georgetown peers and staff shaped him, White discussed the impact of diversity, both in his own life and in that of the other participants on the trip.

“Everyone had different backgrounds in social justice and everyone held very different identities,” said White. “My grandpa is Jamaican, so I'll always cherish the opportunity to see where he grew up.”

'BRINGING IT HOME'

ABP encourages participants to think about ways to continue the conversations sparked on their trips and to keep engaging with the issues that arose. Returning students might get involved with other CSJ programs, take a community-based learning class, or organize events independently to share their experiences with the greater Georgetown community.

“The Jamaica team is meeting with a faculty member to talk about the ways they can bring what they learned in Jamaica back to campus,” said Vita. “There’s a million different ways that students can get involved and I think the most important is that they bring that passion and that sense of learning that they experience on ABP here.”

The CSJ also creates spaces for ABP participants to reflect after the end of their program. A week after the end of spring break, ABP hosted a reflection night for students to consider how their experience has shaped them.

“The night was really about the power of stories,” said Vita. “We had about 80 students come. They did reflection, they focused on how they as Georgetown students want to bring what they learned back to the Hilltop. That was a really great way to kind of kick off this idea of ‘bringing it home’ on campus.”