A small fraction of the student population participates in various volunteering and social action projects funded by the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility over spring break each year. These volunteering projects, which are often labeled “alternative spring breaks,” are comparatively less popular at Swarthmore than at peer institutions like Reed and Haverford Colleges, where such opportunities are more widely publicized on campus.
At Swarthmore, spring break projects are usually student-led, with a small amount of funding coming from the Lang Center. Debra Kardon-Brown, assistant director for student programs, leads the Swarthmore Foundation, which is often the source of funding for these week-long projects.
“It cannot be stressed enough that the [financial] support is quite modest … Fundraising [for these groups] is a must, and the support offered by the Swarthmore Foundation is intended as seed funds,” Kardon-Brown wrote via email. “The key to success for all groups seeking this type of support has been to declare their intention early in the fall semester, so that we can advise them on restrictions for support (the Swarthmore Foundation does not, for instance, cover airfare).”
One project that received funding from the Swarthmore Foundation this year was the Newman Catholic Student Group, which volunteered over spring break to rebuild a home in David, Ky. under the direction of a local non-profit, the St. Vincent Mission.
Hazlett Henderson ’17 helped organize another spring break trip this year through the Lang Center’s “Project Pericles,” which provides student groups with annual funding for social action projects. Henderson was not aware of any college-sponsored opportunities for student volunteer work over break, adding that “either groups aren’t doing enough outreach or groups organizing volunteer work over break don’t exist.”
The spring break trip that Henderson helped organize (but did not participate in herself) brought members of Swarthmore’s Mountain Justice to Duffield, Va. to learn more about mountaintop removal coal mining. Laura Rigell ’16 was the student leader during the trip. It was her fourth time leading the event.
“Four of us went down from Swarthmore, joining about 80 students from across the Eastern U.S. Our trip was carrying on a tradition of relationship between Swarthmore and communities in Appalachia,” Rigell wrote in an email. Rigell went on a second Pericles-funded trip over break to an event in Dimmock, Pa. on the subject of fracking.
Approximately 400 students stayed on campus during spring break, according to a survey that the Office of Student Engagement sent via email to the student body before break. Of those 400 students, many were athletes who were either leaving or returning to campus from spring training. Of the non-athletes who stayed for the entire spring break, many wanted to have a relaxing spring break to recover from midterms, according to Rachel Head, assistant dean and director of student engagement. She believes that more students are choosing to stay on campus each year, although she could not say this with certainty as the college only started collecting data on the number of students that remain on campus over break since last year.
If students express interest, Head said she would be willing to consider ways for students to get involved in and around campus during break. Head herself was asked to participate in a Mountain Justice alternative spring break trip a few years ago, but ultimately did not go due to illness.
“As we collect more data on students staying over break, I hope to see trends emerge that could tell us more about what students are doing and are interested in doing over break,” she said.
Kardon-Brown cautioned that increasing funding opportunities for spring break trips has its drawbacks.
“Effective and appropriate group service during break times requires hours of dedicated research, planning, implementation, the development of emergency protocols and procedures, and staff of both the Lang Center and a group’s adviser to ensure the safety and efficacy of the action, the comfort and welcome of the community, and the learning of the students participating,” she explained. Still, she said that if student interest was great enough, the college should do whatever it can to support student experiences that provide social benefit.