While most students use the week of spring break to sit back, relax and tan by the beach, the members of University of Miami Alternate Breaks (UMAB) take the time to focus on social justice issues.
The idea of an “alternative break” is not something that is unique to UM’s campus. UMAB is a chapter for Break Away, a national nonprofit that helps with the development of alternative break schools around the country.
“What sets alternative breaks under Break Away apart from typical programs is the focus on education and orientation prior to the trip and the use of the trip as a catalyst for future action,” said Miranda Goot, a UMAB logistic chair.
The UMAB trips aren’t only offered during spring break. In the fall semester, UMAB sends four groups of students throughout Florida to participate in service projects, and in the winter, there is a week-long international trip to Puerto Rico. The spring break trips send students around the country to focus on different social issues in the United States. Students can choose from different destinations; each place focuses on a specific social justice issue.
Goot says she became involved with UMAB her freshman year because she wanted to get involved with service.
“I came in to college wanting to join a lot of different organizations covering a broad spectrum so I thought I would try UMAB,” she said. “Ironically, I chose UMAB because I did not think it would be a big time commitment, and now it is my life because it has changed the way I view the world.”
This year, there are 12 groups of students, totaling 100 travelers. The groups will tackle topics such as environmental sustainability, LGBTQ issues, children’s issues and racism.
When Meera Nagarsheth was a freshman at UM, she chose to go on a service trip with UMAB instead of going back home or on vacation for her spring break. Her group went to Los Angeles, Calif., where she worked with issues related to HIV and AIDS. The trip was a catalyst for her to get involved in her own community and on campus. She now serves as the co-chair for UMAB.
“My trip freshman year really opened my eyes to models of servant leadership,” Nagarsheth said.