This spring break saw 28 Trinity students travel to three different cities—El Paso, Texas; Oklahoma City, Okla.; and New Orleans, La.—as part of the University’s Tiger Breaks program, where students spend school holidays serving communities around the country.
The program is hosted by the Center for Experiential Learning and Career Success and is designed for students to serve communities, engage with alumni, and explore the culture of a new city. In celebration of Trinity’s 150th anniversary and with the financial support of President Danny Anderson, all three trips were free to students this year.
Each trip had a focus: New Orleans students promoted environmental justice, Oklahoma City students worked to help issues of poverty and homelessness, and El Paso students focused their efforts on immigration. In addition to community service, the trips included a cultural excursion to give students a chance to experience each city and meet local alumni.
In Oklahoma City, Trinity students left their mark by volunteering with the Salvation Army, Hope’s Kitchen, City Rescue Mission, and The Regional Food Bank. At Hope’s Kitchen, students packaged 912 lunches for food insecure children. For their cultural day, students met with Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame author Rilla Askew, who explained Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Riots, and placed it in the larger historical context of the Civil Rights movement. During the trip, students were treated to a special seating at the Oklahoma City Thunder game.
"The trip was a great opportunity to learn more about homelessness and poverty in Oklahoma, the state with the highest poverty rate in the nation,” says Savannah Helvey, a community engagement specialist at Trinity. “We were able to help out with excellent organizations doing their part to alleviate poverty by providing food and shelter to community members in need.”
In New Orleans, students got busy experiencing all aspects of environmental justice. Students planted spices and herbs for a community garden that provides fresh produce for neighbors in the surrounding food desert, an area of low food accessibility. Students also planted trees in Woodlands Conservatory, petitioned against a pipeline that would destroy historical sites and reduce the city’s cleanliness, and made signs for protestors involved in a grassroots movement.
Students gained a new appreciation for environmental issues by seeing the daily impact climate change has on people. Additionally, the trip challenged students to think beyond climate change to other factors influencing environmental justice.
“It's important to draw a distinction between environmental studies and environmental justice, something I didn't realize before this trip,” says Danyal Tahseen ’19, a student on the trip. “It's easy to think that environmental justice is all about conservation and planting trees. However, the ‘justice’ component carries so many layers such as politics, anthropology, economics, bureaucracy, environmental racism, and power dynamics with who gets hired and gets to construct policy.”
After a long day of getting hands-on experience with environmental justice, the students chowed down on dinner with alumni, including feasting on critters at a crawfish boil.
“The alumni dinners were a big highlight for me,” Tahseen says. “It can be easy to get caught up in school once you're stuck in the rhythm of taking tests and writing papers every week, so I found it inspiring to talk to alumni and remind myself there is a journey to be had after college. Plus, it was humbling to be told by people who've been in our shoes that our work matters—especially over a delicious crawfish feast.”
Back in Texas, students volunteered for four days to help support migrants in El Paso.
Students volunteered with the Annunciation House, which is a nonprofit organization that supports migrants who have recently been released from ICE detention. The shelter had around 100 new people arriving every day, and students roles shifted to adapt to daily demands, working to check in new migrants, provide them with food, and clean rooms. Students also volunteered at a community farm, which produces 100,000 pounds of food for the El Paso food bank.
Altogether, the trips gave students the unique opportunity to deeply engage with issues that they find important and learn about the complexity surrounding the issues in a real world context. Going on a trip with fellow Trinity students made the experience that much better.
“It enriched my perspective to be around other students who were on the same trip, but came into it with very different backgrounds and motivations,” Tahseen reflects.