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Media Memo: Students on Civil Rights Pilgrimage as U.S. reacts to Trayvon Martin shooting

March 28, 2012

TO:News Editors and Directors

FROM:Judy Berthiaume

DATE:March 28, 2012

SUBJECT:Students on Civil Rights Pilgrimage as U.S. reacts to Trayvon Martin shooting

Fifty UW-Eau Claire students spent last week (spring break) traveling through the South visiting sites of historic importance to the U.S. civil rights movement. The students, along with several faculty and staff members, were in the South learning about the civil rights movement as protests were being held nationwide in response to the shooting of the unarmed black teen in Florida.

Nick Severson, a senior political science major from Arcadia, is available to share his thoughts about being on a trip dedicated to studying the civil rights movement at the same time the country was reacting to the events surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin.

Severson — who has gone on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage five times and helped plan four of the trips — said students followed and discussed the Trayvon Martin tragedy throughout their weeklong journey. Civil rights experts who met with the students during their trip also talked about the shooting, he said.

"People were generally concerned that an unnamed African-American teenager could be killed simply because he looked 'suspicious,'" Severson said. "I think this event has shown us that race is still a big issue in the United States and that we still have a long way to go to ensure that people are treated equally regardless of things such as race. This event helped the trip participants see that the civil rights movement accomplished a great deal, but that we still have a lot to do when it comes to race."

UW-Eau Claire's Civil Rights Pilgrimages — offered during spring break and Winterim — include stops at the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta, Ga.; the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Ala.; the Civil Rights Memorial and the Rosa Parks Museum and Library in Montgomery, Ala.; the National Voting Rights Museum and other sites in Selma, Ala.; sites in New Orleans, La.; Central High School and William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark.; and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn. While in Selma, students participate in a project to serve the community.

"I am motivated to be part of this project because I believe in a common humanity and the fact that we have far more similarities than differences," Severson said of participating in the trip multiple times. "The trip is a way to help people overcome some of the '-isms' they harbor. I see it as an opportunity to help make the world a better place, and I am honored to be a part of it."

To arrange a time to talk with Nick Severson about his experiences on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, email him at

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