Alternative Breaks Program Expands
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COURTESY KSHITHIJ SHRINATH

COURTESY KSHITHIJ SHRINATH

The Center for Social Justice’s Alternative Breaks Program announced in November its expansion to include 31 service trips, the most in ABP’s history. The increase includes six new trips, including trips over the summer and Presidents’ Day weekend, as well as five new spring break trips.

Founded in 1975 with a single trip to Appalachia, ABP has gradually expanded throughout its history to begin offering trips outside of the spring break period, with 18 trips in the 2013-2014 academic year.

This year’s additional trips, which include Washington D.C. programs “Magis: Deconstructing Islamophobia & Religious Discrimination” over Presidents’ Day weekend and “City Seeds” in May, increase ABP’s total enrollment potential to over 400 undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty and staff members.

“CSJ’s Alternative Breaks Program has a long history at Georgetown University, with our first group of students spending their breaks immersed in community and learning more about social justice over 40 years ago,” CSJ Associate Director Raymond Shiu wrote in an email to The Hoya.

Three of the seven new ABP trips this year are designated as “Magis” trips, resulting from a partnership with the Center for Campus Ministry. Each will specifically involve discussions of faith and religion.

“We’ve been looking to continue to expand the options available to respond to interest, provide alternative options, and explore additional social justice issues,” Shiu wrote.

ABP’s new programs aim to attract a greater number of student volunteers this year by offering more trips over a wider range of dates. According to ABP Finance Chair Saumya Bollam (COL ’16), ABP’s new programs endeavor to target students whose schedules may not allow for a traditional spring break service trip.

“We understand the commitments that Georgetown community members make during spring break and wanted to offer alternative timelines — shorter, weekend trips for people who can’t commit a week away from family — and other options for students who go abroad in the spring,” Bollam wrote in an email to The Hoya.

With these additional programs, student leaders within ABP said they hope greater student involvement will bring more diversity to ABP groups and lead to more productive and impactful trips.

According to Kate Riga (COL ’17), who serves as a co-leader of ABP’s Blanket New Orleans trip, the addition of new trips allows for more participants and more fulfilling experiences.

“By expanding the trips, all we’re doing is making this transformative experience more available to a greater selection of people. ABP thrives off of a diversity of participants, and the more people we can reach, the richer and more impactful the trips will be,” Riga wrote in an email to The Hoya.

“Magis: Deconstructing Islamophobia & Religious Discrimination” will take place in Washington, D.C. after requests from Georgetown’s Muslim Life chaplain Imam Yahya Hendi, and students both within and outside the Muslim Student Association.

Hendi will join 14 student volunteers and two student trip leaders, such as co-leader Zack Abu-Akeel (SFS ’18), on a four-day-long service trip in the District to address issues of Islamophobia in the local community and its effect on national policy.

“A big part of any ABP is meeting people where they are. So we start at the beginning with a lot of discussion about identity and how to form a religious community through identity,” Abu-Akeel said.

Abu-Akeel said that a large part of creating a successful ABP trip comes from working with various community groups.

“We contact the community partners and actually set up the schedule for the week and who we’re going to meet with. That’s a big part of it, forming the arc of the trip,” Abu-Akeel said. “How are we going to combine our different experiences to form a narrative for the few days or the week?”

Applications for ABP’s 25 spring break trips were due Jan. 15, after which trip leaders were tasked with sorting through applicants and assembling their service groups. Abu-Akeel said trip leaders specifically look for applicants who are enthusiastic about the alternative break’s issue area and display a willingness to approach the trip with an open mind.

“What we look for in applications is ability, willingness to engage in reflection and draw on past experience to explain why you see the world the way you do now,” Abu-Akeel said. “Basically, are you showing potential to engage with these issues through reflection?”

Students’ responses in recent years to added trips during winter and summer break encouraged ABP to add trips over long weekends such as the Islamophobia trip.

“Going home and seeing my family over spring is important to me, but doing a service trip in February or May is something I can see myself doing,” Nicole Bittlingmaier (NHS ’18) said.

Christina Graziano (MSB ’17) said that she appreciates ABP’s expanded program offerings allow students to participate in social justice work outside of the spring break period.

“Well, I think it’s definitely a good idea to expand the offerings, just because I know people have set plans for spring break,” Graziano said. “I know I haven’t gone on a spring break trip because of previous commitments to my family, so I definitely would be interested in going on a Presidents’ Day trip.”

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