Civil Rights Tour: A Spring Break Experience

It’s spring break and you know what that means—right? Maybe not.


As many of my peers hopped on planes, trains and cruise ships (oh my!) on Friday with the intention of dipping their toes in an ocean after seven weeks of early, stress-induced mornings and late, coffee-fueled nights, I stayed in Athens until Saturday in order to embark on a slightly different adventure.

This semester, I took Media and the Civil Rights Movement, a course offered through the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University that offers students the chance to gain more knowledge on a topic that may have skimmed over in their history classes throughout the years—the civil rights movement. It wasn’t the “fun elective” that many of my friends may have opted to take, but it was one that gave me the space to ask questions and speak my mind without feeling (completely) idiotic.


Throughout the class, most of my peers and I ached with desperation for knowledge of the history which our former teachers failed to present to us. The discussions our class had in each class reflected the frustration we felt having not have been presented this information earlier in our lives. Each week contained content about the history of each one of our stops during spring break—Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma, Alabama; Sumner and Jackson, Mississippi; and Memphis, Tennessee.


Each city was strategically picked to be included in the itinerary for the OU Civil Ride for the purpose of riding along the same paths that the Freedom Riders traveled during the 1960s. Additionally, each stop on our trip is home to many opportunities to learn from various people who might have lived through the civil rights movement or have had a hand in advocacy journalism

Here are four reasons every college student should embark on an alternative spring break adventure:Unknown-6.jpeg

  1. Bond with people who are passionate about the same things as you

It’s not everyday you’re able to talk openly with other students about difficult topics like race, intersectionality and the role journalism played during the civil rights movement. By leaning into the difficult dialogues this trip provides the space for, you’ll undoubtedly come out on the other side being friends with at least one person you never thought you’d have. There’s just something about getting on passionate tangents regarding mass incarceration and systematic racism that brings people together.

  1. Be immersed in new cultures you wouldn’t have had the opportunity to otherwise

I don’t know about you, but my mom and dad never once talked about taking a family vacation down to Mississippi, much less visit five Baptist churches in the name of educating ourselves on the importance of history. Going on the Civil Rights Tour was able to give me access to monuments, memorials and museums in order to commemorate the important parts of America’s history—parts that shouldn’t be skimmed over in school in order to avoid difficult conversations, but embraced for what they are in order to learn and grow and be better—in the civil rights movement. Without the genius of this class, I don’t think I would have ever opted to create my own version of the Civil Rights Tour, so being with a group definitely helped.


  1. Gain connections with phenomenal graduate assistants and professors

Being in a class of just 15 undergraduate students, three graduate assistants and two professors meant it was a lot easier to open up about these difficult topics than a 200-person lecture in Schoonover 145. Through daily debriefing of each day’s content, everyone in our group was able to share their favorite parts of their day and the parts of their day that were the most disturbing. Together, we shared high highs and low lows. We cried—tears of sadness and frustration, anger and angst, heartbreak and happiness.

  1. Be inspired

There’s nothing like a trip down South to expose oneself to some real resiliency. Throughout our class’ various visits to the churches, memorials and museums throughout the tour, our class met those people who experienced the civil rights movement and its events firsthand. These people became the faces of the civil rights movement to us—faces of change and resiliency…and hope. Along the way, we also met Jerria Martin. The first woman of color to be the student body president at Princeton, Martin decided to dedicate her life to creating a positive change in her hometown of Selma, Alabama after her graduation. This desire for change manifested itself in HOPE Academy, a center that promotes a positive and drug free community. When we visited HOPE as a class, Martin discussed the importance of using our education to create the change we are being called to make.

Unknown-3.jpegIf you’re looking for an incredible opportunity for growth and an experience that is sure to change your perspective on life, I highly recommend taking Media and the Civil Rights sometime before you graduate Ohio University. Not only will you make incredible memories with an incredible group of friends, but you will also gain knowledge that you won’t be able to find in any history book (trust me—I’ve tried). Challenge yourself to be different and take a chance on an alternative spring break.






Jessica Rutkowski is a journalism – strategic communication major and current VP or Social Affairs for Scripps PRSSA. Keep up with this adventerous gal on Twitter @JessicaLynn57

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