Middlebury’s Alternative Break Program (MAlt) functions as a service-oriented alternative to traditional February break activities. By engaging with communities across the nation and the globe, students share an experience, provide service where service is needed, and learn about the systems that shape community realities around the world.
This year, three student-designed, student-led virtual projects took place over J-Term and spring semester.
Topics revolved around US immigration education and advocacy, environmental conservation amid the pandemic, and the experiences of women of color in predominantly white spaces. While the pandemic introduced a set of challenges for organizing and carrying out the trips, the MAlt leaders were just as determined and dedicated to fostering engaging and welcoming environments for participants. MAlt trip leaders Olivia O’Brien (’21.5) and Alex Burns (’21.5) highlighted their excitement for hosting the guest speaker Lina Maria Murillo, a professor of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality studies and a Borderlands Historian at University of Iowa, who elaborated upon immigrant detention as a reproductive justice issue. Tina Cai (’23) and Huiming Liang (’22) coordinated with different environmental conservation groups to host a speaker series of varying perspectives on and changes to environmental advocacy, while Destini Armstrong (’21) and Megan Job (’21) collaborated with the Center for Community Engagement to send personalized care packages and activities to students.
When asked about what inspired their MAlt Trip, leaders illustrated their desire to explore issues and share a space for students to develop the tools to make a difference. Tina noted that she saw the “potential to help organizations through community service virtually and learn from leaders from different nonprofits”, which fueled her and her trip-partners’ drive to host a speaker series along with a workshop. Some of the leaders were also eager to explore their topics as a result of their previous involvement in MAlt trips, such as Alex and Olivia, who collaborated with San Antonio–based RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services through a MAlt trip in 2019 and came away “feeling as through other Middlebury students should get involved”. Oliva shared, “we both realized this was work we wanted to continue in a more meaningful and long-term format, and by leading a trip year on the topic of immigration, we could get more Middlebury students involved in work that we both view as incredibly important”.
Olivia advises that students apply to become MAlt leaders because the trip “allows you to introduce fellow Midd students to an issue or topic that you are passionate about. In my experience as both a participant and a leader, MAlt consistently creates a positive community of students that are eager to learn more about a particular topic (and from one another), and motivated to put in work towards often complex/difficult goals” Tina further communicates that through the MAlt trips, students are able to “enhance their leadership skills…while gaining personal growth through collaborating with different individuals” as well as “meet people who share the same passions and make connections”.
MAlt attendees responded happily to the leaders’ efforts. A participant of the US immigration education and advocacy trip imparts, “My experience with my MAlt trip was illuminating, inspiring, and intense. Although we did not physically travel, we did navigate the intellectual and legal landscapes that surround the immigration system in the United States to further our understanding of this reality. Engaging in the process of learning alongside other members allowed me to feel part of a community that also is dedicated in changing systems in place to control and oppress individuals”. Participant Zeke Hodkin also notes, “MAlt trips are such impactful ways to spend one’s free time from college because they introduce and seek to counter the injustices that pervade our society. The premise of MAlt is not just to enter a community, allow it to impact the voyeur, and have the individual leave; instead, MAlt really does focus on the intersection of growth through education and action against societal wrongs”. By learning more in depth about and engaging in reflections over complex issues, participants emphasized the necessity to move from a sense of understanding towards (often political) action.
Thank you to all the MAlt leaders and participants for your eagerness to develop your knowledge and act for change!