Over two dozen Wiley College students spent March 25 through April 1, 2023, in Washington, D.C., for the inaugural Wiley College Alternative Spring Break program.
Wiley College, a historic Black institution in Marshall, Texas, founded in 1873, celebrated its sesquicentennial this year. For 150 years, it has stood as a beacon light, a premier exemplar of educational access, and an academic haven for Black intellectualism. With that mantra, first-years, sophomores, juniors, seniors, and faculty and staff site mentors packed their bags and headed to the nation’s capital.
The program, an activity tied to the mission of service-learning and the intentional focus of the college, social good, and leadership, took three approaches: spirituality, service, and scholarship, fulfilling the chapel’s mantra.
Liam Saint-Marc, an international student and mass communication major, said, “It was an amazing experience as I was able to step out of my comfort zone and become an active vessel on the trip.”
By way of spirituality, students experienced various worship types, including a Christian worship service at Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia.
At Howard University, students attend an Islamic Jummah prayer service with the Muslim Student Association. Lastly, the participants attended a contemporary Jewish Shabbat service at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. After each worship service, students had to write and reflect on the experience. In addition, daily reflections were led and facilitated by the faculty and staff site mentors. “I loved getting to know fellow student participants and traveling with individuals I care about. Learning new leadership techniques and getting to experience new faith traditions were the highlight for me. What a great opportunity to travel, learn, and connect and make friends,” said Aniyah Clark, a junior sociology major.
Service projects included speaking at Alexandria City High School and volunteering at the Dunbar Alexandria-Olympic Boys and Girls Club. The volunteers addressed educational disparities at both sites and discussed youth outreach and college readiness. Students also went to the Christian Unity Baptist Church in Waldorf, Maryland, provided on-site technical support and assisted with organizational management.
Through scholarship, students had the unique opportunity to visit the Museum of African American History & Culture and the Human Rights Campaign. They toured the Capitol Building with their congressional representative, Nathaniel Moran. On the exclusive tour, Representative Moran walked students through the rich history of the building and the federal legislature. The students could even sit in on a congressional session and witness D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton debate national environmental issues in real-time. She also photographed with the students after she remarked on the House Floor.
The students’ travel to Howard University also included a tour of the School of Education, and they learned about graduate programs. Students then met with other Alternative Spring Break student leaders from Howard to conclude their trip. “I was amazed to learn more about different cultures, religions, and Black history. This group was exceptional because of the monumental impact we were able to make. This ASB cohort will forever be known as ‘iconic’ because we were the first from our institution to serve in this capacity,” said Julian Dean, a junior music education major.
The experience was made possible by a fund from Alfred Street Baptist Church, a historic Black Baptist church in Alexandria, Virginia. The church, founded in 1803, donated $50,000 to the College. The gift was part of Alfred Street’s Tithe-the-Tithe initiative, which has given more than $1,079,287 to over 70 community-based and national organizations to support various needs. A generous grant from Interfaith America also supported the experience and provided interfaith collaboration. The Washington D.C. Chapter of the Charmettes, Inc., and the Wiley College National Alumni Association provided meals and other in-kind donations.
Rev. Dr. Cecil Duffie, dean of chapel at Wiley College, shared, “The Alternative Spring Break program falls in line with what our president, Dr. Herman J. Felton, Jr., has deemed as ‘Wiley Cares.’ The Chapel and the College promote the values of spirituality, service, and scholarship.”
About Wiley College
Founded in 1873 in Marshall, Texas, Wiley College is a historically Black, liberal arts, residential, co-educational, baccalaureate degree-granting institution affiliated with The United Methodist Church. Committed to the principle of educational access, the College serves traditional and non-traditional students from diverse backgrounds who have expressed a desire and potential for learning in a Christian environment. Home of “The Great Debaters,” Wiley College intentionally focuses on social good and leadership, and its motto is “Go forth Inspired.”