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The power of activism in the heart of the civil rights movement

"There is change to be done, and I'm going to be a part of it."

Senior mass communication major Karen Hansen posted those words in the Civil Rights Pilgrimage blog after returning from her journey through the South, where she and 50-plus Blugolds immersed themselves in the culture and history of a region that was at the center of the United States' civil rights movement. Hansen's determination to make a difference in the world around her is typical among students after they return from the pilgrimage, an experience that is offered twice each year during Winterim and spring break. 

Offered twice yearly during Winterim and spring break, the Civil Rights Pilgrimage takes students to the many sites that have historic importance to the U.S. civil rights movement. The students also interact with people who were a part of the movement.

A student-created immersion experience, the pilgrimage helps students understand how the grassroots of activism began in the U.S. and it helps students see that they are capable of standing up for the issues that concern them, said Jodi Thesing-Ritter, an associate dean of students who has gone on each of the trips since they began in 2008. Thesing-Ritter serves as an adviser to the student coordinators who plan and lead the pilgrimages.

The Civil Rights Pilgrimage includes stops at the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta; the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama; the Civil Rights Memorial and the Rosa Parks Museum and Library in Montgomery, Alabama; the National Voting Rights Museum and other sites in Selma, Alabama; New Orleans, Louisiana; Central High School (recognized for its role in the desegregation of public schools) and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas; and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

The trip also includes a stop in New Orleans, with a visit to the famous Preservation Hall, home of New Orleans jazz. 

While in Selma, students have participated in a slavery-reenactment exercise as well as in a service project to serve the community where the march to Montgomery began to fight for voting rights for African Americans. Learn more about the Civil Rights Pilgrimage.