Break Away Blog | Read + Act

A Statement on COVID-19

Break Away staff has spent recent weeks reflecting on and researching the implications of coronavirus (COVID-19) on students, staff/faculty, alternative break programming, and higher education at large. 

We know how hard students, staff/faculty, and community partners have worked to plan, train, recruit, fundraise, and generally prepare for our work in community. We have been watching alongside you as campuses have shut down travel, alternative break trips, and even classes. 

We understand your fears and frustrations surrounding this pandemic. We continue to be in solidarity with student leaders who are taking on the brunt of the work tempering worry and mourning the loss of programing, both for community partners and student learning. We feel your disheartenment. This pandemic has ripples that will be felt for a long time. 

Although the majority of programs send trips in March, active citizenship isn’t relegated to one week in spring. These closures and cancellations call for creative responses (we’ve seen the memes, Gen Zers, and know you’re up for it). Engage active citizenship from wherever you are, whenever you can. Making others a priority in your decisions and life choices doesn’t just have to happen in person. 

Active Citizenship in the Face of COVID-19

As a communicable disease, COVID-19 presents a unique opportunity to unpack the way in which these types of diseases disproportionately affect communities already at the intersection of multiple systems of oppression. 

The call for people to work from home, self-quarantine, or go to the doctor assumes equitable access to these options. In reality, there are significant portions of our communities for whom that is not an option due to job limitations, lack of paid sick leave, or access to health care benefits. 

In the current conversations around coronavirus, there is a lot of mention of “high risk”, “vulnerable”, or “at risk” individuals without a real acknowledgement of who these folks are, nor our collective responsibility to keep each other safe. The norms and structures of our world are not built for disabled people and they face disproportionate barriers and consequences during times of crisis.

We also want to clearly name the rampant racist and xenophobic narratives surrounding COVID-19. We all need to engage (and encourage others to engage) in self-reflection around our language and beliefs about this pandemic. We all play a part in combatting the ideologies that inform these bigoted and racist actions.

We believe in you. We continue to be your biggest fans. And, for what is probably the hundredth time you’ve been told today, please wash your hands.

Your partners in the Movement,
The Break Away Team

Advancing the Movement

National Conference Calls have historically been one of our platforms for student + staff leaders to share ideas and best practices within the Movement. This month, instead of putting out a conference call, we’re trying something new - still sharing innovative ideas from programs doing great work, but in a format that centers and honors your brilliance in a more sustainable way. 

We know there is only so much time that you can dedicate to professional development in staff meetings, advising meetings, or at your desk over lunch. So, we have created this new method of delivery for you. The same type of content that we would deliver to you in a conference call, but in a condensed format that you can come back to time and time again. We're excited to hear how it's working for you!


Nationally, we've heard from programs struggling with recruitment. In the 2018-2019 National Alternative Break Survey, we heard from a few schools that they have experienced an uptick in recruitment as of late. We were intrigued, so we reached out to Zach Carr, the Associate Director at the Center for Service Learning and Volunteerism at the University of Memphis to share the creative ways that he and his team recruit new participants. 

Part 1

Part 2

Key takeaways from the University of Memphis’ recruitment strategies

  • New Student Orientation breakout session. Have your program conduct a breakout session to introduce students and parents to alternative breaks
  • Welcome Weekend outreach. Organize a Day of Service during your institution’s Welcome Weekend
    • This is an opportunity for students who may not know about alternative breaks to engage in service run by your program’s trip leaders
  • Seek out service related courses or courses with service-learning components. Have program students/staff request to speak about the program
    • This audience is already service-minded 
    • Consider any social justice courses in addition to service-related courses
  • Seek out scholarship programs on campus. Many scholarship programs have a service requirement
  • Gather phone numbers / emails of students who are were interested and engaged during any of the above outreach. Trip leaders should reach out to the interested students to begin building a relationship with them
  • Invite the interested students to an informational session. The University of Memphis has informational sessions run 3 times per week from the end of September to mid-October

University of Memphis Recruitment, a Timeline

Alternative Break Recruitment Timeline

A note on cross-campus partnerships

68% of schools reported engaging in cross-campus partnerships in last year’s National Alternative Break Survey with organizations such as the diversity + inclusion office, campus recreation, and Greek Life. 

For example, if your program is planning a trip that focuses on LGBTQ+ rights, are you working with the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, Gender + Sexuality Studies Department, Office of Equity + Inclusion, or the Chief Diversity Officer? 

Working Side by Side quote on recruitment

Discussion Questions

  1. What departments or programs are you already partnering with for recruitment to your AB program? Who might you add to this list?
  2. Where do your student leaders (exec board, site leaders, etc.) hold influence on your campus? How can you help them connect their AB involvement with other roles they hold on campus (resident assistant, Greek Life membership, teaching assistant, lab assistant, intramural participant, etc.)?
  3. What other programs or departments are increasing in enrollment?  
  4. Does your school have an experiential learning/co-curricular transcript? How would you add or edit your program to meet the requirements for inclusion? What about course credit? 
  5. Have you recently raised your participation fees? Who is excluded (or included) by your fee structure? 
  6. Do your potential participants know how to connect the skills gained in preparation for and during AB trips to the job/internship market? 

Download these questions as a PDF

Get trip leaders into service learning or social justice courses to talk about alt breaks

To Move Forward, Look Inward (Part 1)

Break Away’s vision is to build a society of active citizens. Not only is reflection a crucial step in this process, it’s also vital for a quality service or community-based learning experience. Reflection is a rare opportunity to process new information and plan for future action. Structured reflection in a group setting should create an environment where all participants are able to contextualize their own experience while also considering larger systems that perpetuate or alleviate social injustice.

We believe quality reflection is predicated on three foundational pieces: a well-built team; a strong curricular framework; and a critical understanding of privilege, oppression, and social justice. In this series of blog posts, we’ll illuminate our tips to planning, facilitating, and participating in a topic-based and forward-thinking reflection.

Start before reflection begins.

As Audre Lorde described “the true focus of revolutionary change is to seek the piece of the oppressor that is planted inside of us.” When we practice self-evaluation, we broaden our perspective and begin unlearning false realities we’re raised with. Once the process of addressing the ways we’re socialized has begun, each of us is responsible for re-learning how to navigate the world as stewards of our communities and advocates for justice.

The process of deconstructing and reconstructing is uncomfortable and, often, unsettling. Navigating these conversations is unlikely to happen among people unfamiliar to each other. In reflection’s best iteration, groups with well-established relationships reflect together - creating an environment where participants are able to be vulnerable and to experience growth.

Leaders of the experience must prioritize developing the team well before the formal reflection begins to reach the ideal group setting for reflection. Try enhancing pre-trip curriculum to equip participants with necessary knowledge and language, or try bringing reflection into informal spaces (like car rides or downtime) so folks can get comfortable talking about the topic. Consider - in what ways are you using group builders to create an environment of trust where growth and learning can flourish?

A Solution Isn’t Always the Answer

Many of us have the desire to be a quick fixer. Table a little wobbly at a coffee shop? Fold up a napkin and shove it under the leg. Not enough people to volunteer at an on-campus event? Gather as many folks as you can and offer them free pizza. Your friend has too much work on their plate? Join them in a late night study session. A natural reaction to identifying problems is to try and find solutions. But this isn’t always the right move.

While progressing along the Active Citizen Continuum, we uncover realities of a long history of injustice and resulting generations of trauma experienced by marginalized communities. We find individual - often incredibly personal - stories of violence and discrimination, barred or inhibited access to basic needs, and tragic events that alter life’s course. We also know traumatic events happen to people every day. The pain that comes with it can’t simply be fixed. There isn’t a one-size fits all approach and there isn’t a singular solution. Healing processes look different and more often than not, are everlasting.

As outsiders to an experience, whether or not we hold shared identities, or even shared experiences, we have to be okay with knowing that although we can’t fix it and we won’t fully understand - we can humbly approach offering what we can to supportKnowing when not to act is a critical and overlooked skill in the pursuit of active citizenship. Anguish cannot be relieved by knowing the “right” thing to say or even offering answers earnestly found by trying to understand how other people have healed. When our immediate response to grief is proposing solutions, we’re disregarding a necessary part of the healing process.

So what can we do as friends and supporters? Sometimes being a listening ear or a physical presence is the most important role. Someone sharing their grief doesn’t want to hear “things could be worse” or “at least it’s not xyz.” Often all you can do is suffer alongside and do what you can to lighten the burden.

We need to slow down and decenter ourselves. Be present, listen to understand, let them know they aren’t alone - especially when personal suffering exists beyond others’ attention span. Those who go through the process of healing adjust to their new reality but are fundamentally changed by it. The trauma never really leaves. Show up - even when it’s hard - it’s when we need communities the most.