Diversity Trips expand education beyond the classroom

AFC Diversity Trip

Avent Ferry Complex Diversity Trip

On April 6, 16 students left the Avent Ferry Complex (AFC) for the first ever AFC Diversity Trip to Charleston, S.C. The two-day trip packed in tours of downtown to explore the Gullah/Geeche culture and the Charleston Aquarium.

“Avent Ferry is one of the only buildings on campus without a Living and Learning Village community,” said Hazael Andrew, Assistant Director Southeast Area. “Every year we try to do something centering around diversity and include high impact programming for students to provide them with similar experiences to living in a Village. It’s important to provide these types of experiences for students.”

The City and Island Gullah/Geeche Tour included stops at the Angel Tree, Slave Market, Charleston Islands, McLeod Plantation, Charleston jail and more. The tour guide, a Gullah himself, incorporated as much culture into the presentation as possible.

“During the tour, Al spoke Gullah and really tried to show us how each stop related to his culture and how it has shaped today from the past. I had no idea the city was so culturally diverse and rich,” said Sharod Fenner, a sophomore computer engineering major.

One of the main stops for students on the tour was the former Slave Market, where they were encouraged to walk around and interact with the Gullah and Geeche people selling hand-made baskets, jewelry and other wares. “One of the students just stood in the market watching a woman weave a basket for 10 minutes,” said Sahana Sankaar, Residence Director at Avent Ferry. “Except, she wasn’t really watching the woman make a basket. She was observing so she could listen to her speak in Gullah. It was a very cool moment to see students immersed in a new culture.”

To help students process their experiences on the tours, residence directors Sankaar and Jenni Johnson organized a discussion following the day’s activities. Students were encouraged to share their experiences and think about how their actions could impact others. “The discussion after the tour was really eye opening for me,” Fenner said. “I’m more aware of what I say and do and how my interactions affect others. I realize how privileged I am and I want to use that privilege to help others that may not be.”

The AFC diversity trip was funded in part by the Parents’ Fund (through the Annual Fund Office), Hall Council support and Resident Advisor programming. Students applied to attend and only paid a nominal fee. “During the trip, one first-year AFC student approached me and said ‘Sir, I am having so much fun! I just wanted to say thank you to you and all who assisted with paying for the trip.’ It was such a touching moment,” Andrews said.

The AFC hopes to continue the meaningful program for students next year with a possible trip to Washington, DC. Ultimately, students decide where they want to go and AFC staff members plan the trip to keep it affordable for residents to participate.

“It’s a really good experience,” Sankaar said. “It’s great to see everyone having fun while learning first hand.”

West Campus Diversity Trip

 On March 28, more than 30 students and housing staff members flew to New Orleans, La., for a four-day Diversity Trip.

“This trip, exposing students to Cajun culture was very unique,” said Clyde Wilson, Assistant Director of Lee Hall. “Some students had never flown before and some had never been outside of North Carolina. For some students, NC State was the farthest they had ever been from home. It really took some students out of their comfort zone.”

During their time in New Orleans, the group stayed in the India House Hostel on Canal Street. “The first night was a real culture shock for some students,” Wilson said. “One student didn’t know what a hostel was and thought we spelled ‘hotel’ wrong. But the hostel was a good mix of locals and students from other institutions and students were able to interact and connect with people from all over.”

The trip included tours of the Voo Doo Museum, French Quarter, cathedrals, Audubon Museum, steamboat along the Mississippi River, Swamp tour and community service with a victim of Hurricane Katrina. The Voodoo Museum helped students understand the Cajun culture beyond what they might have seen on television.

“We wanted to challenge stereotypes of religious diversity,” said Gabriel Solomon, Residence Director of Upper Sullivan and Chair of the Diversity Committee. “We wanted students to see   what the misconceptions are. What you might see on TV is all Hollywood and an exaggeration not based on individual practice.”

One of the most impactful experiences on the trip   was the community service opportunity on Saturday. Originally, the group was supposed to help plant trees at a park with the KatTREEna Foundation. However, instead, the group helped a Hurricane Katrina victim named Marty landscape his yard.

“My favorite part was the community service,” said sophomore Callie Hagemeister from Westbrook, CT. “My house was flooded and condemned by Hurricane Sandy. Seeing Marty’s house eight years later was amazing to me. He still hadn’t moved back into his home because he was helping his neighbor rebuild his house. You could still see the water line where the house had flooded. It was amazing how many houses still hadn’t been fixed in his neighborhood. It was really cool to talk to locals and get their perspective on everything, especially since I can relate to what happened. Many people in Connecticut still need help.”

Marty also took the students to the New Orleans levy that broke during Hurricane Katrina. The experience quickly became a learning opportunity. “It was a really cool experience,” Wilson said. “We took real world problems and tied them to everyone’s major and discussed how engineering students might find structural solutions to the levy problems and biology students discussed how heat, humidity and soils contributed to the problem and might contribute to solutions in the future.”

Students participating in the West Campus Diversity Trip were also encouraged to share their experiences during a reflection period. Housing staff members facilitated intentional conversations with students to foster learning opportunities about perceptions and privilege and how it shapes society.a

“Diversity is not just about race and ethnicity,” Soloman said. “It’s more than that. It’s about food and language and culture, too. We try to travel to locations where students can challenge their perceptions and expose students to what represents diversity.”

Students applied to participate in the Diversity Trip. Once chosen, they paid $100 for a trip that would normally cost more than $600 per person. The West Campus Diversity Committee helped plan the trip and wanted to keep it both affordable and impactful for all students. A special thanks to the NC State Parents’ Fund, hall council support and resident advisors for making this trip possible.

“This trip was the best part of my freshman year,” Hagemeister said. “After travelling for three days, we all became really close. We formed strong friendships and I see people from the trip everywhere. New Orleans is the coolest place in the US. It was absolutely amazing.”