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Student recognized for research on diversity issues

RELEASED: Nov. 4, 2010

Elsa Kraus photo
Elsa Kraus

EAU CLAIRE — A student from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire received an honorable mention award for her research presentation at the Wisconsin College Personnel Association Conference Oct. 21-22 in Wisconsin Dells.

Elsa Kraus' presentation, titled "Responding to the Challenge of Social Justice through Immersion Experiences," which was co-presented with her faculty mentor, Jodi Thesing-Ritter, associate dean of students at UW-Eau Claire, covered the preliminary design of the research.

The study is being conducted by Kraus and five other UW-Eau Claire students to demonstrate the value of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, a 10-day trip during which students visit sites of historic importance to the U.S. civil rights movement. Thesing-Ritter is responsible for the development of the pilgrimage, which has been offered twice per year since 2008. Kraus, a junior from Stratford majoring in psychology and women's studies, went on the pilgrimage in January 2010.

According to the program abstract, a body of research will better examine the relationship between UW-Eau Claire students and their ideas about the importance of immersion experiences, racial prejudice and gender inequalities. "Assessment of Impact of Civil Rights Pilgrimage on Student Participants" aims to develop an understanding of high-impact practices, help participants learn how to create immersion experiences and provide methods for measuring the impact and determine learning outcomes.

"This research is important because, due to a very homogeneous population in Eau Claire, many UW-Eau Claire students are not aware of racist and sexist attitudes they might hold," Kraus said. "These attitudes are built into our society, and many times, people do not purposely uphold them. Hopefully this research will show that the trip has a positive effect on student attitudes and can help create a more inclusive, safe and diverse campus."

Thesing-Ritter applauded the student researchers' work, noting that the WCPA award is a testament to the value of the project and the research students have conducted thus far.

"The student researchers on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage project have done a remarkable job of creating a meaningful learning experience for their peers and have worked tirelessly to assess the impact of the immersion of their fellow students," Thesing-Ritter said.

In addition to participating in the pilgrimage, Kraus took a course called "Women in the Civil Rights Movement." She is a student coordinator for the Civil Rights Pilgrimage and co-president of the College Feminists student organization.

From what she has learned about oppression in her courses, co-curricular activities and the trip itself, Kraus said she now can better identify with the tragedies and struggles minorities have experienced.

"By the end of the trip, I felt like I could connect with the pain, anger and overwhelming sadness so many people felt on April 4, 1968 (the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated). The experience leaves students feeling empowered to do something about the inequalities in the world."

The next Civil Rights Pilgrimage trips are planned for January and March 2011, with stops in Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee, including the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr.; the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; the Civil Rights Memorial; the Rosa Parks Museum and Library; the National Voting Rights Museum; Preservation Hall; the William J. Clinton Presidential Library; and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn.

Students will participate in a service project to serve the community where the march to Montgomery began in order to fight for voting rights for African Americans. Participants' experiences and attitudes will be included in Kraus' research.

"Capturing the success of this trip through research is one of the best ways to emphasize and maintain support for this program," Kraus said. "I will be working with issues of diversity, immersion, sexism and racism in graduate school, so I feel very lucky to have hands-on experience as an undergrad.

"Jodi Thesing-Ritter is one of the most inspiring individuals I have met at UW-Eau Claire. She has a way of making a student feel empowered and I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of her team."

The Civil Rights Pilgrimage is sponsored by the Dean of Students office, a Blugold Commitment grant and the UW-Eau Claire Foundation.



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