Alternative Spring Breaks

Christine Whelan | Posted on 03/19/10

Beach in Mexico... to soup-kitchen in DC? This from a group of Millennials who are supposed to be so self-centered and entitled?

"I was going to head to Mexico with a buddy of mine for some beach-time," a student told me during office-hours a few weeks ago. "But when that fell through, I saw a sign about a trip to feed the homeless in DC, and thought that sounded kinda cool as well. I mean, it was better than spending the week on my parents' couch watching TV."

I have to say, I was shocked: Beach in Mexico... to soup-kitchen in DC? This from a group of Millennials who are supposed to be so self-centered and entitled?

Indeed, once I started asking, I learned that nearly a quarter of my class was participating in some sort of "alternative" spring break plans this year: Instead of going to Florida or Cancun, they joined thousands of other college students nationwide feeding the homeless, building houses for Habitat for Humanity or volunteering at a local outreach organization near campus.

The Washington Post reported on the growing trend.

An informal survey found many alternative break programs in the Washington region, most relatively new and growing fast. Hurricane Katrina, five years ago, breathed new life and fresh urgency into the programs; many colleges now send buses to Mississippi and Louisiana every March.

The Center for Social Justice at Georgetown sent 194 students on 13 alternative spring break trips last week, "and that's just my department," said Ray Shiu, program director for student leadership and special programs.

The campus-wide total is larger. One group journeyed to New Orleans to help in the continuing effort to rebuild. Another headed to El Paso to explore the border community. A third went to Immokalee, Fla., to study migrant labor.

Students contribute $100 or $200 toward travel and lodging. Costs are subsidized through tuition and activity fees. The program is so popular that, this year, 60 students were turned away.

Whether or not you support their choices of causes (and some of my students are passionately fighting for all sorts of things that make me cringe), it's great to see young-adults involved: From outreach missions to El Salvador to anti-death penalty activism group trips, this is a heart-warming trend.

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