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Class travels to civil rights memorials over break

Adam Llorens | Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fall Break is usually a time for students to return to normalcy: mom’s specialty dishes, catching up with neighborhood friends and copious amounts of sleeping.

For English professor Stuart Greene’s freshman university seminar class, the week was filled with visitations to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 16th Street Baptist Church and other historical sites in Alabama to engage in experiential learning for their course: “Memory, Memorials and Memorialization of the American Civil Rights Movement.”

“I have never done this before, even though I have been teaching classes on the civil rights movement for nearly 10 years,” Greene said. “A colleague at Indiana University-South Bend inspired me who taught a class on the civil rights movement and spent two weeks traveling to Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, Memphis, Nashville and other sites. He called the experience ‘Freedom Summer.'”

Greene conducted a tremendous amount of research by looking at various guides and discussing with historians about which places to visit and which people the class should meet.

“Everyone was incredibly generous with their time and willingness to spend time with my students and I,” Greene said.

The class received funding from the College of Arts and Letters’ “Teaching Beyond the Classroom” program and from the First Year of Studies. Greene and the students covered approximately 20 percent of the cost for travel, lodging, food and admission fees to museums, institutes and churches.

“It would have been great going home, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience going with your peers and a professor who is an expert on the subject,” said Bryce Parker, a student in the class. “I’m in college once and can go home another time

“If we missed out on this experience, we would have asked why did I give this up just to go home? I don’t think any of us regret it.”

Aliska Berry signed up for the course because of the mandatory Alabama trip.

“It gave me a firsthand account to experience the Civil Rights Movement,” Berry said. “The trip made me learn about my ancestors, what they went through and why I’m here today. It was a humbling experience.”

Austin Bosemer, whose favorite experience of the trip was walking through the streets of Selma, said the course has taken a social activism spin on its historical foundations.

“I have gotten involved with Take 10, a volunteer program to mentor students in South Bend area schools,” Bosemer said. “Through this, I’m affecting social change in our community.”

The students said their most memorable experience was meeting JoAnne Bland, a tour guide who guided the group through two churches in Selma.

As a nine-year-old, Bland was a peaceful protestor scheduled to march from Selma to the state capital in Montgomery. However, armed officers carrying tear gas attacked the demonstrators at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, forbidding them from reaching Montgomery. The infamous day is commonly known as “Bloody Sunday.”

“The march turned the national spotlight on Selma and the plight of minorities,” David Katter, another student in the class, said. “She has a lot of built-up rage over that event, which turned into a really moving trip as we walked through Selma with her.

“She asked us, ‘I got you this far, what are you going to do?’ It was a really cool call to action.”

The semester-long project of the class is to write a 15-page essay concerning the trip, how it affected the students, the importance of a chosen memorial and the importance of it.

Some students, like Jas Smith, have created individual projects to complement their experiences.

“I decided to make a website to educate children in the Selma area about the Pettus Bridge because a lot of them don’t know about it,” Smith said. “My project is to reform the teaching of history and show why these aspects of civil rights are important.”

Beyond engaging in an experience hard to fully understand from reading history books, Greene said the students enjoyed themselves and came together a class.

“The effect on us was great and it was a bonding experience for us all,” he said.