By Erin Polley, Indiana Peacebuilding Program Director
For the past six years, the AFSC Indianapolis office has collaborated with Earlham College faculty and staff to offer an alternative Spring Break experience for students. Past Spring Break experiences have taken place during the NATO Summit in Chicago and with the Michigan Criminal Justice program. They've focused on art and activism through various AFSC programs in the Midwest Region.
As the coordinator, I've had fun meeting Earlham students and introducing them to the work of AFSC. We’ve seen many of them come back to AFSC as volunteers, interns or to do their May Term with an AFSC program.
This year, in collaboration with Joshua Saleem and the St. Louis Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) program, we welcomed 10 students from Earlham College for six days of immersion into the St. Louis community and the work of AFSC. The students participated in the AFSC Freedom School workshop led by interns and spent a day of service with a local Catholic Worker house that partners with AFSC and worked in AFSC’s Freedom Garden. We had the opportunity to meet with local activists and learn more about the conditions that made the police killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson so significant.
As tensions around issues of racism and privilege have mounted on college campuses nationwide, Earlham College has also been engaged in a struggle between students and administration. Many of the students who participated in the Spring Break have been deeply involved in this organizing work, while others are trying to find their place in it.
“The Alternative Spring Break made me more confident in my ability to discuss race and helped me get a better sense of how I can contribute to anti-racist movements without taking the space for leaders of color,” said Sonia Norton, a first-year student at Earlham.
For Arish Mudra Rakshasa, an international student spending his first year in the United States, he feels connected to the struggle on his campus, but came to St. Louis to gain new skills to organize. “I now have the tools and learning I need to step up and create movements in my own community against systemic oppression.”
Back in St. Louis, Joshua Saleem recently shared the good news that the City of St. Louis will allow the garden's chicken flock to remain. He writes: "The neighbors love the chickens and they're a hit with youth in the neighborhood, but there was uncertainty for a few weeks about whether or not they'd be able to stay since we're leasing the lots from the city. Well, we just got word that they can stay! It's a small victory but a victory nonetheless."