S.T.A.R.T., or Students Taking an Active Role Together, was started in 2016 by Ashlee Jeannot ’17 with the goal of organizing students to engage in discussions and action around issues of social justice. S.T.A.R.T. hosts a week-long program prior to each fall semester during which students take part in discussions, service projects, museum visits, along with a variety of cultural experiences. Consistently, the program has attracted such a diverse group of students that it has grown to about 40 members. Opening this trip to students outside of S.T.A.R.T. allowed for an even more diverse group of Emmanuel students to engage with and learn about different types of social justice and issues of race.
Associate Director of the Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Fillette Lovaincy, who had developed the idea to create a new Alternative Spring Break experience, commented, “I wanted the social justice trip to be open to everybody, regardless of their background, but also to provide students of all backgrounds an opportunity to engage in social justice by learning in new and different ways.”
For this trip, current student coordinators, Maddie Bradley '22, Magali Dominguez-Partida '23 and Angelina Latin '24, built a travel itinerary focused on a variety of experiences for students. Dominguez-Partida '23, the vice president of S.T.A.R.T., is an international studies major with a concentration in diplomacy and security and is pursuing two minors in legal studies and Spanish. During their travels to our nation’s capital, students ran into a familiar face while they donned their Emmanuel College sweatshirts. “While we were in the airport waiting to board our plane, we ran into former Mayor of Boston, now Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh. After getting a call from his assistant, we were able to get a tour of the Department of Labor, which was such a great opportunity to learn more about him and the work he is doing,” said Dominguez-Partida.
The group visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Associate Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Jeff Smith, commented, “It was really moving. It’s an honest reflection of Black history in America. I would also mention that it’s so important that it sits on the National Mall, which is close to the White House and across from the Washington Memorial. It feels very intentionally placed there.”
He added, “The experience within the museum is powerful. There are intensely sad moments, but there are also a lot of joyful and inspirational moments, too.”
Another highlight for the group was seeing Shayane Dalencourt-Simon '20, who currently works for Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey. Dalencourt-Simon and a few colleagues from the Congressional Black Caucus Fellowship program spoke to the group of Emmanuel students on a panel. The CBCF Congressional Fellowship Program empowers early career policy professionals who are committed to contributing to public policy with the necessary skills to become the next generation of leaders in public service.
Angelina Latin ‘24, a psychology major with a concentration in counseling and health with double minors in education and criminology, serves as the digital specialist coordinator for the S.T.A.R.T. organization. She is also a member of the Black Student Union and GRACE (Growing Racial and Cultural Equity), an initiative as part of the President’s Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Latin had her own unique experience when she took some time on Friday to visit Howard University, which is a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). She also took a trip to a pop-up art exhibit called The Black Hair Experience, which was a photo opportunity to see Black hair positively represented.
“Seeing the National Museum of African American History and Culture for the first time was my favorite part. I spent a lot of time within the history of slavery exhibit and the civil rights movement exhibit. I had the chance to see the Emmett Till memorial and his casket. Seeing that type of history was powerful. Also, what was moving was seeing the parts of the museum that show Black art, music and dance. The museum gave a holistic view of the Black experience in America, whereas sometimes in education, it feels like they mostly focus only on the negative experience of Black people in America, which is a narrow view.” Latin explained.
She continued, “Having this type of experience as a student of color makes me want more people to be able to go on the trip because it is so powerful to witness not only the African American museum, but also the other museums about other people of color that we had the opportunity to visit.”
The hope is that the trip can expand in size and to different destinations where issues of race and social justice can be studied. As a requirement of attending the trip, all students created presentations on their experiences and takeaways. Some of the prompts for these presentations were: How will you apply what you learn to your engagement in the Emmanuel community and/or beyond Emmanuel? What specific knowledge or skill did you gain from attending the social justice trip? What was your favorite academic/educational activity?
Maddie Bradley '23, the president of S.T.A.R.T., was instrumental in the planning stages of the trip. Although unable to attend with the group this year, she commented, “While planning the trip and discussing the trip with students who were able to attend, I felt that this truly expanded beyond a fun bonding experience. It was an experience that created a greater understanding of the historical landmarks visited and a means to share this with the larger EC community. I felt that this would be a very impactful trip and a new approach to an educational Alternative Spring Break experience here at Emmanuel.”
“I encourage students who want the opportunity to learn about social justice with no judgement to join the S.T.A.R.T. organization. It is a great place to ask questions one might have and learn more broadly about different issues going on in the world,” encouraged Dominguez-Partida.