Every year UWEC students have the opportunity to go on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage. Students have the opportunity to visit sites of historic importance to the U.S. civil rights movement and also make a stop in New Orleans to see the famous Preservation Hall. Amy Hahn went on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage this spring break and here is her experience.
I grew up just outside of Minneapolis and graduated from a rather diverse high school. Coming to a university like Eau Claire was exactly the opposite from the diverse student body I had known in high school.
When Jan Larson presented her special topics course “Civil Rights Reporting” to my CJ 427 class, I didn’t jump at the opportunity right away. In my personal ignorance, I thought I was well versed and understood racial issues because of where I grew up, but I could not have been more wrong.
The entire immersion experience was eye opening, and even uncomfortable at some times. You get thrust into an experience that you’ve only ever read about in textbooks or seen in movies, but it wasn’t until we made our stop in Selma, Alabama that the importance of this trip hit home. Selma is home to the historic Bloody Sunday beatings of civil rights protestors, and you can still feel the race and class inequalities today.
While we were in Selma, I had an assignment to get a story on a local youth group called the Random Acts of Theater Company, or RATCo for short. Listening to this group of kids share their stories of inequality through poetry, song, and hip hop dance moves was awe inspiring. They lit something in me that I didn’t realize existed.
The Civil Rights Pilgrimage or CRP as us veterans like to call it, had an unforeseen influence on what I wanted to do with my future and my career. If I am fortunate enough to get a job within the journalism field, I want to write about things that matter – Carrie Bradshaw and her life as sex columnist doesn’t seem to be quite as fulfilling as I once imagined. I also want to make it my job to make media representation more diverse and inclusive.
It was an amazing opportunity to flex my journalism muscles. Working with a small team of journalists all of whom have a story to complete before the 10 day trip is up teaches you how to think on your toes, and how to adapt when a situation doesn’t go quite as planned.
It was also great to get out of the Midwest bubble. It’s easy to report around Eau Claire in a personal safe zone where everyone is that special ‘Midwest nice’ I’m accustomed to. The immersion trip introduced me to an array of southerners that served you with a lot of sass if you forgot your ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir.’ Reporting in a new environment taught me a lot and forced me to get out of my comfort zone to get the information that I needed.
Although Jan Larson isn’t offering CJ 491 this upcoming year while she is on sabbatical, I would recommend the Civil Rights Pilgrimage to any one who is considering going. The experience and the learning alone make you a more informed citizen of humanity. The trip begs you to think critically and start asking questions about why things are the way they are. Going on this trip with an open mind and heart will change your life.
Amy Hahn, Journalism Major