By: Henry Eden ~Staff Writer~
Xavier’s alternative break (AB) trip to Selma, Ala., was planned with the goal of allowing students to examine many different kinds of privilege in their own lives. Students’ reflection on everything from gender privilege to racial privilege was supposed to be a cornerstone in helping students to understand how privilege affects their lives back home.
What they found during their time in the city famous for the voting rights movement in 1965 lent a whole new meaning to the word.
XUAB: Selma student participants Aubrey Bourgeois, Garrison Mays, Jeremiah Pennebaker, Madison Steele and Michael McGrath all found the environment in Selma to be unlike anything they had seen before.
“Basically you still have almost 100 percent segregation” Bourgeois said.
“Right now the population is 20 percent white and 80 percent black and there’s not really much integration occurring between those two communities,” McGrath added. “And unfortunately there is not a lot of integration going on between those two communities, and this means there are a lot of groups coming to the community and trying to create social change and unfortunately not doing a very good job of that.”
The group of students found that despite its rich history in civil rights, Selma is unwelcoming to outsiders, and resistant to change. “It’s almost like it’s stuck in time, and they haven’t moved on from the original culmination of the voting rights movement,” Bourgeois said.
The students said that many groups coming into Selma to create social change were unaware of their privilege, making it much more difficult to create progress, including the group that XUAB: Selma partnered with on their trip.
“People come in to change the community because they think they’re right. Privilege comes in in the way that you think that you have it best and end up disregarding other people and their cultures. That’s why some of the outside agitators weren’t as productive.” Student leader Jeremiah Pennebaker said.
The students also experienced segregation firsthand when they learned of one Selma establishment that continues to employ rules rooted in the city’s past.
“There is a country club that has come out and stated that they would not allow a black member, but they will have black workers. People who cook for them can be black and people who mow the lawn can be black, and these people have to enter through the back entrance.” Borgeois said.
“We considered going in, but we figured that would show the lack of privilege for us, that everyone else in our group would have.” Mays said. Mays and Pennebaker are two of the African American students who participated in the Selma trip. The students left Selma feeling unsettled and frustrated with how complacent the city seemed to be.
“Selma was very stuck in the past” Pennebaker said. “There are things people were fighting and dying for that still haven’t happened there.”
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