Diversity concerns are an important part of some of the most pressing and difficult conversations our country and our campus are having right now. Seeking to address these issues, a group of almost 30 AU students participated in a Tri-S trip to Washington D.C.
While in D.C., they visited the African American History Museum and reached out to AU alums and connections to learn about how people are addressing diversity issues in the nation’s capital.
The focal point of the trip was the museum, and Cultural Resource Center Director Michael Thigpen was thrilled to have the opportunity to not only take such a large group of students to the museum, for which tickets are extremely hard to come by, but also to offer the opportunity to others.
“We received a matching number of complementary tickets,” said Thigpen. “We were able to give those tickets to a local Boys and Girls Club so that these students who might not be able to go can learn about African American history.”
The trip itself is a historic one for AU, as it is both the largest Tri-S trip to date and also the most diverse, with students representing a wide variety of countries and cultural backgrounds. This was an intentional choice, claims Thigpen.
“It’s often difficult for our international students to go on Tri-S trips because of the finances of going to school outside of their home country,” he said. “We managed to find some sponsors so that we could lower the price of the trip and make it accessible to everyone who was interested in going. So this Tri-S is the shortest Tri-S trip but also the cheapest. People might ask why international students want to go on Tri-S trips. ‘Their AU experience is a Tri-S trip,’ right? But the U.S. has such a rich variety of cultures and we want them to be able to experience it, too.”
Senior Ariana Milla looked forward to “taking part in activities that are different than my culture, but very important to many of my African American friends,” and in attending the museum “was able to realize how real it all is and how it wasn’t too long ago when segregation was alive and well. I had a hard time abstaining myself from being angry towards this country and that aspect of history.”
The difficulty with a Tri-S trip with so many people and so little time—the group left Thursday night and arrived back late Sunday night—is to find meaningful ways to spend time.
Though the African American History Museum is known to have several days’ worth of dense content in it, the students and staff could not spend the whole trip there.
The trip did not simply focus on the problems of racial conflict, but also offered a window into the lives of men and women of diverse backgrounds who are working to help others from diverse backgrounds overcome the barriers they face because of that background.
Following their time in the museum, students spent time with several AU alums working in the D.C. area. Students met with Tim Kumfer, who works with the homeless and marginalized of the city, and with those serving in direct ministry through area churches.
But the experience does not stop with the trip. Before they left on Sunday, students attended not one but three churches, including the home church of senior Rachael Sutherland, to get a glimpse of the diverse spiritual community of D.C.
Milla found that the opportunity to “experience different types of worship” had an impact on what students want from chapel on campus.“We realized how much has to change in the worship diversity in chapel,” said Milla.
It is not unheard of for students to notice that, aside from the occasional appearance of the gospel choir, chapel largely shows the same evangelical contemporary Christian side to worship, and the opportunity to visit several churches outside of their own denominational background helped some students understand the value of worshiping in different ways with different styles of music to refresh their experience of worship.
Senior and Student Body President Eric Stone, who had already been on several Tri-S trips before going to D.C., hopes that what he and the students learned on their trip will spur further conversation and action on diversity issues. This desire has led him and SGA staff to sponsor a new campus group called Conversations Across Borders, which is a “weekly opportunity for conversations with someone you don’t know hosted by SGA to promote community.”