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Cultural and Historical Understanding through the lens of Service-Learning

| Elliot Adams

History is a topic that can both be inspiring and positive but also a topic that can be violent and distressing. This is why Ethan Teow, an Actuarial Science major from Penang, Malaysia, decided to become a coordinator with the Civil Rights Pilgrimage. Teow wanted to introduce students, faculty, and Eau Claire community members to experience the physical history of the Civil Rights Movement by hearing the voices of people who participated in the Civil Rights Movement as well as being able to see the buildings and locations where history was made. 

“The experience I had when I first joined was remarkable. As an international student, I wasn't too familiar with the Civil Rights Movement here in the United States, and there was a lot of information to take in during my first trip.” Teow said, “I felt that there was so much more to learn, and I felt the stories I have heard from prominent civil rights activists needed to be heard by many more people. This prompted me to take a coordinating role, because I felt that I wanted to bring this trip to other UWEC students, and even community members.” 

To put together such an event, Teow would work together with other student coordinators and faculty months in advance for hours at a time in order to fit in as many guest speakers, locations, and venues as possible in 10 days while still leaving enough time for important group discussions and reflection activities. 

“We ran through discussion questions with each other, did daily debriefs to look at areas where we can improve for the next day of the trip, and made multiple revisions to the itinerary when necessary.”

History has a tendency to repeat itself, and with the social justice movements from the summer of 2020 fresh in many people's minds, Teow thinks it's important to remember that the history of social justice goes back much farther

“People need to know history. History oftentimes gets forgotten and misrepresented. I hope that this Pilgrimage has allowed others to see why the Civil Rights Movement has been such an integral part of history, and why it was so pivotal in securing the rights and freedoms that many people enjoy today.”

Another aspect of the project that Teow emphasized was the fact that the Civil Rights Movement is still living history; the speakers involved directly participated in the Civil Rights Movement and the locations and buildings they visit still stand to this day. On his first pilgrimage, Teow felt that the experience was remarkable and inspired him to be a more socially aware person and wanted to be able to help others have similar learning experiences.  “We engage in critical discussions that help participants think and reflect on certain issues, and to have them actively ask themselves what they can do to make the world a better place.” Teow said. 

While the main focus of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage is to highlight and teach about the struggle for African-Americans to achieve equal rights, Teow reflected on how the lessons he learned can be applied to other struggles around the world. 

“There is still so much that can be done in the world today with regards to civil rights. Not just here in the United States, but when you look at other places in the world that still do not provide equal opportunities to women, who discriminate against minorities, and who persecute political opponents; you realize that there is still a long journey this world has to walk, before it reaches equality.” 

While the spring Civil Rights Pilgrimage of 2020 was cancelled and the Civil Rights Pilgrimage in early 2021 was virtual, Teow hopes that next year the Civil Rights Pilgrimage will return to the full 10 day trip to give students the same opportunity for the eye opening experience he had on his first trip. 

Teow is grateful to have been able to fulfill his Service-Learning requirement by giving back to a program that benefited him greatly. The opportunity to help create a more inclusive, tolerant, and understanding student body is something Teow will never forget about his UWEC experience.