Every winter, spring, and summer AU students lead and participate in groups through Alternative Break that travel all over the world exploring human rights issues and doing hundreds of hours of community service in some of the most impoverished places in the world.
Weeks of pre-trip training go before these trips assuring that the students are adequately prepared for the situations they will be placed in. The leaders spend months, even a year sometimes, planning every detail of the trip — even, for example, where the group will eat each of their meals.
There is a day of pre-trip service and a huge emphasis on post-trip activism, bringing what we learn abroad back in a practical way to D.C. Every winter, spring, and summer AU students pay thousands of dollars to learn and serve through these trips, whereas their peers across the country do not.
Alternative Break is part of a national organization called Breakaway. Around 50 colleges across the U.S. have similar programs. And most of these colleges subsidize the cost for student participants. AU does not.
For example this winter George Mason University is sending a group to Guatemala for 10 days and each student is paying $900. AU is also sending a group to Guatemala for 12 days, but they are each paying $2,000. Lafayette College reduces their costs per participant to $350 for any trip, abroad or domestic, through support from the school budget, the Student Government Association, and their community outreach office.
For example, a group of Lafayette students just went to Ecuador for $350 each while AU students going to Colombia this winter are each paying $2,000. Both the trip to Guatemala and Colombia are cheaper then the one I am leading to South Africa. AU currently gives Alternative Break enough money to cover the faculty advisers that participate on each trip, there is no money left over to help students participate in these trips. This, unfortunately, often limits trips to those who have the means to pay for one although we as leaders and through the support of the Center for Community Engagement & Service try to fundraise as much as possible to reduce the cost.
After learning about the subsidies other schools give their Alternative Breaks programs I was shocked that AU gave so little. Alternative Break is by definition what AU stands for — community service, global involvement and knowing about a particular issue and region. Why then does AU pay minimal attention to a program that spreads the school’s mission farther then almost any other program?
Experiences such as Alternative Break are what make AU diverse, something that AU strives to be. Why then would the administration not help fund something that can only help their case for diversity and attract more students? Instead of paying hundreds of thousands of dollars on a campaign that might draw some attention to the school, why not fund something that will spread the mission of AU across the whole world?
This winter I am leading an Alternative Break to Cape Town, South Africa. This is one Alternative Break out of 13 that will be happening this year. Thirteen trips, around 150 students, tens of thousands of dollars, and almost no help from the American University administration.
Sarah McHaney is a junior in the School of International Service and an AU affairs columnist for The Eagle.