Alternative winter break helps students give back

Zaria Johnson

Instead of taking time off during the holidays, students can make a difference in Flint, Michigan through Kent State’s Alternative Winter Break program.

This year, students will spend three supervised days in Flint, between Jan. 9 to Jan. 11, and gain insight on what it’s like to endure the Flint Water Crisis.

“It’s an opportunity to go to another city that tends to be in the news and get a sense of what is happening there from people who are living and working there,” said Dr. Ashley Nickels, assistant political science professor and faculty advisor of the break. “It’s a different type of knowledge than ‘read this book.’”

While the specific details of the trip are still being worked out, Nickels said the days will be full of informative discussion and direct service, so students should not expect to have much free time during the day.

“This is pretty structured, because we try to fit in as much as we can,” Nickels said. “I’m working with my colleagues in Flint to find opportunities to do civic engagement, volunteer work, cultural immersion and to have some learning opportunities with people in Flint about their experiences and their insights into the water crisis, environmental justice and all those pieces as they fit together.”

Although students will be busy during the day, Coordinator of Community Engaged Learning Abigail Noble said students may have some free time in the evenings, which they can spend getting to know each other.

“A huge benefit of going on these trips is the opportunity to get to know new peer and get to make new friends,” Noble said. “We really try to prioritize creating environments for friendship building.”

Students will stay at the Flint Firestone Center, a social justice center, along with students from several other universities.

The trip is filling up quickly. Noble said she would encourage students to continue to apply prior to the Dec. 27 deadline in case seats open up in the future.

“If you want to go, still apply,” Noble said. “We have a lot of students that haven’t paid yet, so if they don’t pay, they can’t go. It’s first come first serve, and anyone is welcome to apply.”

If a student is interested in the alternative winter break, but cannot attend, Noble said she would encourage them to register for one of the eight alternative spring break trips instead.

“This isn’t the only experience we have for alternative breaks,” Noble said. “The same benefits that come from the winter break trip will totally come from the spring break trips, if not more.”

The biggest benefit for students come from the change in perspective and a sense of appreciation for the lives others live, Nickels said.

“Students get a deep understanding of lived experiences in other places … and get a sense of how people are responding to environmental injustices and the Flint Water Crisis in particular,” Nickels said.

There’s a $100 registration fee, which includes all housing, food and transportation costs. Financial assistance is available for students who need it.

“If $100 is a barrier for participating, we highly encourage students to sign up for these scholarships,” Noble said. “We want students to participate in these trips and we definitely don’t want money to be the reason that they can’t go.”

Students should know they’re going to Flint to learn, work and provide meaningful service in the community, Noble said.

“It’s more than just a couple days in Flint,” Noble said. “There’s going to be a lot of change to happen within the community, but also within the group and within ourselves.”

Contact Zaria Johnson at [email protected].