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Friday, December 01, 2023 — Houston, TX

ASB groups ditch the beach, connect with community

Jennifer Liu / Thresher

By Jonah Sposito     3/21/23 10:24pm

According to just about every college stereotype ever, spring break is associated with partying and hanging out on the beach. However, some Rice students spent their recent breaks a little differently. Some wrote policy briefs on mental health in migrant communities. Others volunteered at clinics for Vietnamese refugees or visited local arts organizations. These students all have one thing in common: they were a part of Rice’s Alternative Spring Break Program,  which aims to work with community partners on a range of social issues.

“I really appreciate the idea behind Alternative Spring Break, providing the means for exploring community activism,” Anisha Abraham, a Jones College sophomore who participated in ASB this year, said.

The trips take students to cities near Rice to engage with various social  issues. This year, eight ASB groups explored areas including Austin, San Antonio and New Orleans.

Although the program takes place during spring break, planning for ASB begins as early as the previous spring. Last spring semester, pairs of site leaders pitched ideas that they were passionate about and, once approved, started designing these programs.

“When I was developing the curriculum for the ASB, it was really important to me that what we were learning was applicable to any Rice student,” Bria Weisz, a recent ASB site leader, said.

Weisz, a Brown College senior has always had interest in both visual and dramatic arts, specifically in equity within art spaces. She proposed the topic as an ASB, later titling the program “The Big Picture: Equity and Accessibility in Art.”  

Months later, Weisz’s group traveled to San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth to engage with organizations working on increasing equity in the arts. Among other community partners, the group met with a public art administrator about how spaces dedicated to art can uplift communities and later visited a public art venue in San Antonio.

“It was really to give the participants a deeper understanding of their approach to art, rather than just going into it as a viewer,” Weisz said. “The next time that they view art, they are going to know all of the different layers that go into making that piece.” 

Barakat Ibrahim, another site leader, said her group’s trip focused on the foster care system in Houston and Louisiana. Her group of nine students volunteered at donation centers, learned from community partners and even talked to a mother trying to regain custody of her kids after being arrested.

“I’ve always wanted to adopt personally, and then I realized I really wanted to learn more about the system just because … people don’t know the nitty gritty of what’s happening,” Ibrahim, a Wiess College sophomore, said. “This [was] a great opportunity to learn more about it for me and I know [other] people will be passionate about it too.”

Another group, led by Michelle Martinez and Denise Maldonado, was focused on exploring the current healthcare resources for recent immigrants in the U.S. They said they wanted their group to learn about public policy surrounding immigrant healthcare, and all the current barriers that exist legally, economically and systemically for immigrants. 

“We chose [to go to] New Orleans due to its unique status as a sanctuary city within the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals,” Maldonado, a Lovett College senior, said. “The fifth circuit — comprised of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi —  is notorious for its anti-immigration rulings.” 

While in Louisiana, Martinez and Maldonado’s group volunteered with Catholic charities to help newly migrated people get accustomed to everyday life. 

“The family that I personally worked with was a Honduran family that just arrived in the U.S. 10 days ago. We taught them how to use Google Maps, we downloaded Google Translate on their phone, we walked them through Target and showed them how to use self-checkout,” Martinez, a Hanszen College senior, said. “I thought that was really helpful for them but also really eye opening for all of us, understanding the experience of a migrant — it’s a whole different system for them.”

Martinez said that several members of their group, including herself, said their ASB trip strengthened their pre-existing connections or interests in migration work. 

“Whenever we were having our final reflection, the participants who were pre-law said that this made them more sure that they want to study immigration law in the future,” Maldonado said. “It [solidified] those ideas that they had of going to law school.”

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