Every year, Bowdoin students set off on service-based Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trips, and this year was no exception. Students this year traveled to different service organizations in Maine, Florida, Georgia, California, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C. and Guatemala, working on a number of issues ranging from poverty to education to gender equality and equality for the LGBTIQ community.  

In order to prepare for these trips, participants attend seminars planned and taught by their trip leaders.

“The leaders are responsible for creating eight-week seminars that help participants prepare for entering into the community,” said Andrew Lardie, Associate Director for Service and Leadership at the McKeen Center. “They learn both about the history of the community they’re going to and the issue itself, which might be local or a broader, historical, more national focus.”

Leaders have varying degrees of scholarly expectations of their groups, and often draw from their academic backgrounds while creating the seminar curriculum. Going on an ASB allows students, both leaders and participants, to engage with issues they’ve studied in the classroom.
Caroline Montag ’17 a gender and women’s studies major, went on the new trip to San Francisco created by Alice Wang ’15 and Karl Reinhardt ’15 to work with issues of gender and sexuality. Part of what compelled her to participate was the chance to see what she studied at Bowdoin in a different context.

“I wanted to study these topics in a place totally different from Bowdoin, in a big city with a lot of interesting queer and women’s history,” Montag said.

“Seeing things in a much more hands-on, direct historical lens was really interesting. We even went on a queer history tour of the city. Taking what I’ve already learned about the gay and women’s liberation movements and putting it into the direct historical lens of where it happened was really great,” she added.

On this trip students worked with organizations such as the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, where they helped prepare clean needle kits for heroin addicts as part of the organization’s needle exchange program, which strives to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Sam Mayne ’16 also had the opportunity to see what he studied in anthropology classes during his trip to Pleasant Point, Maine where ASB participants worked with the Passamaquoddy tribe. Mayne has taken some anthropology courses specifically about native peoples, and this helped him go into his experience without any preconceived notions.

“It doesn’t relate quite how you might expect it to,” Mayne said. “When you’re actually there, you’re not constantly thinking about the fact that the people are natives. They’re just people,” he added.

Mayne went on the Passamaquoddy trip last year, and hopes to go again next year and would even like to return at the beginning of the summer to run a weeklong literacy challenge to encourage students to read.

Although the ASB application process typically gives preference to new applicants, the Pleasant Point trip gives past participants priority. The trip is free of charge. President Mills’s office supports it as part of the Wabanaki-Bates-Bowdoin-Colby Collaboration. In order to foster a deeper connection with the Wabanaki, the McKeen Center tries to send familiar faces like Mayne on orientation and ASB trips.

“It’s challenging because of the distance, and it isn’t convenient to go there often, so what does it look like to build a relationship with people who you only see twice a year?” Lardie said. 

With Mills departing at the end of the year, President-elect Clayton Rose must make the decision regarding the continuation of Bowdoin’s participation in the collaboration and determine the fate of the program. 

Lardie, the trip leaders, Security Officer JT Tyler and trip advisor Roy Partridge have all discussed ways in which they can sustain a connection with the Wabanaki throughout the year.

ASB trips aim to work as a springboard from which Bowdoin students can continue engagement with the material presented during the week.

Above all, Lardie is impressed by the level of student initiative that he sees in ASB trips. Students propose trips in the spring and plan all aspects of them with minimal supervision from Lardie and the assistance of two student McKeen Center ASB Fellows. Looking forward, he hopes to see proposals for trips that deal with different issues, like environmental justice, domestic violence and public health.