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UWEC civil rights pilgrimage goes virtual

Published: Jan. 18, 2021 at 4:46 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - For the last 12 years, groups of UW-Eau Claire students have taken a trip south to learn about the civil rights movement, but due to the pandemic, they had to change things up a little bit this year.

“We’ve lost some of the experience of being able to touch history which is so important, but we’ve had some really cool opportunities to engage differently,” says UWEC Executive Director for Diversity and Inclusion Jodi Thesing-Ritter.

Instead of a 10 day trip through states like Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee to learn about the civil rights movement, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Thesing-Ritter to get creative.

“It’s a five day virtual experience, but we’re keeping the course open for the whole semester so people will be able to access the recordings, we also have videos and articles,” she says.

She says 112 students usually go on the trip every year, but this year they opened the virtual experience up to the entire community as well and have had more than 270 people join in.

The program allows you to see the civil rights movement through the eyes of people living during it.

“We’ve also been able to have multigenerational learning because we have retired community members and some families are doing it with their kids,” Thesing-Ritter says.

Thesing-Ritter says canceling the trip entirely this year was never an option.

Student coordinators for the trip like Franchesca Riley, say it will help put the social justice movements of the past year into perspective.

“Especially with 2020, I think the biggest thing is understanding the past does have a correlation with today and understanding that there is something to learn there,” she says.

Riley hopes having the community learning alongside them, will inspire someone to create change in their community.

“I want a lot of people to understand you don’t have to make a big change in the bigger picture, it starts in your community and it starts with yourself and your family.”

Learning from the past, to create a better tomorrow for everyone.

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