Tuesday March 7, 2006

Surf Boarder or Mexican Border

Eight students will spend their spring breaks living for two days without basic utilities in a colony built on a former garbage dump and spend another with U.S. border patrol agents near to better understand one of America's hot-button topics: immigration.

At first glance, some college students headed to the Gulf Coast and Mexico for spring break, March 11-18, should find another travel agent.

Eight University of Dayton students will live for two days without indoor water, electricity, or city services in a colony built on a former garbage dump in Juarez, Mexico, and spend another with U.S. border patrol agents near El Paso, Texas, to better understand one of America's hot-button topics — immigration.

The Women's Intercultural Center in Anthony, N.M., which provides border awareness experiences to explore militarization, economic justice, immigration and human rights issues, will host the UD group.

The University of Kansas, Ohio Dominican University, Georgetown University, Mercyhurst College and Belmont Abbey College are among the other schools participating in border awareness experiences.

Another 40 UD students will join students from George Mason University, Penn State University, the University of Michigan and Dartmouth College, among others, in hurricane cleanup efforts. Even MTV, which is known for televising raucous spring break festivities, is teaming with the United Way to send 100 people to help rebuild the Gulf region.

UD is among many universities nationwide that organize spring break trips to rehabilitate low-income housing, work in soup kitchens, tutor and mentor at-risk children, experience different cultures, and more.

"Our students will learn first-hand what our government is doing by observing the border patrol," Mary Niebler, UD's coordinator of cross-cultural immersion, said about the trip to the U.S.-Mexico border. "They'll live with families where the women work in a sewing cooperative to help supplement their families' incomes. There is a lot of poverty."

Also on the agenda are visits to a border history museum and an organization that helps transition immigrants into the United States, as well as an advocacy center that provides legal assistance to battered women, refugees seeking political asylum and children traveling alone to escape abuse.

"I have no idea what to expect, but people who have gone on this trip say it's an eye-opening experience," graduate student Melissa Lees said. "I hope to come back with an education in immigration issues and compassion for what is going on. It will be nice to have a personal experience and be able to put names and faces together with news reports."

Niebler said that, while many UD Spring Break Out trips involve service, the border trip is mainly a learning experience. She hopes students return with a better understanding of border issues, find ways to incorporate their experiences into their studies, share what they learned with the campus and apply it to their lives and how they view the world.

Other destinations for UD Spring Break Out trips, organized by the University's Center for Social Concern, include Ecuador, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic; Tijuana; Chicago; a civil rights tour through the South; Trenton, N.J.; and Appalachia.

UD organizers said there are long waiting lists for the international trips, and the domestic trips fill up quickly.

For more information, contact Shawn Robinson at (937) 229-3391. For interviews while the UD group is at the border, contact Melissa Lees at (845) 242-8808. For a complete list of University of Dayton national news, see www.UDnews.org. For local news, see www.UDlocalnews.org.