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Racial Stereotypes Focus of New Spring Break in Detroit


Georgetown's Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service (CSJ) will sponsor 17 alternative spring break trips this year, including four programs open to faculty and staff, with more than 240 participants.

January 11, 2012 – A new alternative spring break option for Georgetown students will focus on studying racial identity and its effect on inner city Detroit.

The pilot immersion service trip to that city is among four alternative spring break trips available this year to faculty and staff in addition to students.

The trips are sponsored by the university’s Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service (CSJ), which has 17 alternative break trips in 2012 with more than 240 participants from the Georgetown community.

One-Sided View

Led by Georgetown students Eileen McFarland (C’12) and Kevin Flannery (C’12), the March 3-10 Detroit trip will also look at perceptions of the city.

“The mainstream media portrays Detroit in an incredibly one-sided, negative manner, and unfortunately, I suspect that this negative portrayal influences many Georgetown students’ ideas about Detroit,” says McFarland, who conceived of the trip.

McFarland says many people think Detroit’s white residents left for the suburbs after the 1967 riots, according to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). But she says the change actually began after World War II, when laws allowed returning white soldiers to buy affordable houses in the suburbs.

“In my opinion, Detroit's racial issues and the dialogue around them mirror national misconceptions about race,” she says.

Visiting Detroit

The 10 participants and two student leaders will visit the Urban Earthworks Farm and the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, both run by the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph, The Heidelberg Project, Mexicantown (a Detroit neighborhood) and the Charles H. Wright African American Museum.

The Heidelberg Project is an outdoor neighborhood arts project with works created by using everyday discarded items.

Thanks to a partnership with the Detroit’s Jesuit Volunteers Corps, participants will stay at an apartment near the University of Detroit-Mercy.

Commitment to Renewal

McFarland’s hope is that participants will see that there are young people committed to the urban renewal of a city despite lingering racial issues since the end of World War II, white flight and the 1967 riots, and a population loss of 25 percent over the last decade.

According to the latest U.S. Census, Detroit’s population fell from 951,270 to 713,777 between 2000 and 2010. Approximately 82.7 percent of Detroit’s residents are black while 10.6 percent are white. Between 2005 and 2009, 33.2 percent of the city’s population was in poverty, with a median household income of $29,447.

Building relationships

“The Alternative Spring Break trips are not only a great service opportunity for faculty and staff, but it is also an opportunity to build relationships and community with Georgetown students in a different environment and dynamic,” says Ray Shiu, program director at CSJ.

Other trips open to students, faculty and staff this year include:

  • The GU HERE Hurricane Relief Trip, which helps communities in the Gulf Coast hit hard by hurricanes, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the economic recession.
  • Native American Experience 2012, which provides assistance to community organizations in Robeson County, North Carolina, home of the Lumbee tribe, to provide assistance to various community organizations.
  • Spring Break in Appalachia in one of five sites in West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee, helping community organizations and projects.


Challenging Perspectives

McFarland and Flannery, who met during a CSJ pre-orientation program, received approval for the program this past fall.

She hopes participants in the Detroit trip use their experience to reshape their preconceived notions about the city.

“I hope participants will bring this perceptive skepticism back to their lives … and challenge preconceptions about other maligned communities, whether these communities are in D.C. or the Global South,” she says.

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