Rice University

Rice University Center for Civic Leadership

Past ASB Trips

Defined with an Identity Intertwined: Facing Historical and Current Challenges to Refugee Resettlement*

Location: New York City, New York 

The history of the term “refugee” is complex and intertwined with migration, fighting for the recognition of statelessness, and lack of rights. Today, over 21.3 million people claiming the title of refugee around the world are either internally displaced or displaced somewhere around the globe. While Houston is #1 in the United States for refugee resettlement, New York City’s narrative of immigration traces its way well back into the mid-nineteenth century. As such, the historical foundation of this city will allow us to explore the depths of challenges and tribulations facing refugee populations in America and the agencies that seek to serve them. 

Using Houston’s wealth of resettlement agencies and services as a comparison for our education, we will explore histories of migration and the ways in which policy enacted on a local and national level affect services offered for refugees in America. While stationed in New York City, we will connect with a wealth of refugee agencies who must operate within a complex legal framework. Some focus on helping their populations build communities and acquiring necessary skills to live in a new country and some organizations assist specific ethnic groups. In the political and social milieu of a country stricken with xenophobia over the recent Syrian refugee influx, our work hits the zeitgeist, demystifying history, fact, and truth to lay a foundation for personal insight and communal understanding. 


Stigma v. Science: Sociocultural Impact on the HIV/AIDS Disease Experience*

Location: San Francisco, California 

Our trip focuses on the development and impact of disease stigma, using HIV/AIDS as a model. Beyond the biological effects of sickness, community and individual discrimination of HIV/AIDS can further exacerbate the disease experience. Through continual learning, advocacy, and service, we can reshape sociocultural perceptions of disease. Our pre-trip education and discussions will prepare us to explore the rich history of HIV/AIDS in San Francisco and join their inspiring efforts toward a community of acceptance and support for people living with HIV/AIDS. We will engage in a range of service, from direct interactions with HIV-positive individuals in hospices to administrative assistance for non-profit organizations.


After the Storm: How Natural Disasters Expose and Perpetuate Homelessness and Housing Inequality

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana  

When a natural disaster strikes, not everyone in an area is affected equally. While the natural hazard itself cannot differentiate between race, social class, ability status, or sexual orientation, the social structures already established in an area cause the effects of a disaster to be unequal and discriminatory. At every stage -- preparedness, ability to evacuate, emergency aid, long-term response -- disasters are sociological. As a result, two of the most vulnerable populations when a disaster hits are the homeless and victims of housing discrimination. Quality of life is severely impacted by where you live, and the homeless, without a permanent residence anywhere, experience the most severe form of housing discrimination.

Our ASB is focused on the intersection of homelessness and housing inequality, through the lens of natural disasters. We are interested in how homelessness and housing inequality are not only exposed by but also perpetuated by natural disasters. We will be spending spring break in New Orleans, a city with a vibrant cultural history but riddled with hurricanes. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, the neighborhoods that suffered the most were majority African-American. Despite the storm’s damage, however, residents of these neighborhoods have displayed remarkable resilience and desire to return to the communities they call home. Although our group will learn about homelessness, housing discrimination, and how they relate to natural disasters prior to the trip, direct experience once in New Orleans will provide a deeper and invaluable understanding. This will then allow participants to connect with the issues on a more personal level and become advocates for the issue back in Houston.


Troubled Waters: Exploring Environmental Advocacy and the Human Right to Water*

Location: Sacramento, California 

From Fresno to Flint, many citizens around the United States are experiencing various water problems that are exacerbated by the fact that many of our water infrastructure systems and methods of distributing water are outdated. The intersection between socio-economic disparities and environmental problems has made water justice a complex humanitarian issue. The Human Right to Water, which was recognized by the United Nations in 2010, is a bill which states that every individual should have access to clean, safe, and affordable water. This right has been officially passed in only one state in the US: California. We will explore water access through policy, public education, and environmental advocacy.

On this Alternative Spring Break trip, we will be going to Sacramento, California, where we will engage with local environmental justice groups. These organizations act as a middle ground between communities and policymakers. They work to ensure that vulnerable communities have access to water and have a collective voice. We will also be learning about water issues through the lens of policymakers in the California capitol and participating in direct service that reflects how our personal lives are tied to communities affected by water justice issues.


Respect is the minimum: Exploring and Understanding the Fight for Gender Equality and Reproductive Justice for All*

Location: Washington D.C. 

On this ASB we will be traveling to Washington D.C. to explore the issue of gender inequality, specifically through the lens of reproductive justice. Together we will examine the politics and policies that shape the discourse and reality of reproductive health in America today, and the broader ramifications of the situation, particularly for low-income women of color.

As the center of policy making in the United States, D.C. will give us the unique chance to meet with various policy organizations devoted to the issue of reproductive justice and its broader implications. By combining our service learning experiences with women’s organizations in the area, along with what we learn in our policy meetings we will gain an in depth understanding of how important reproductive justice is. We will explore these concepts not just in terms of public health, but also through the lens of the broader fight for social justice and equality being played out in the American public today.


Cara a Cara: Painting a Face to the Young Immigrant's Educational Experience

Location: Rio Grande Valley, Texas 

You know that immigration, more now than any time in the recent past, has become a hot-button topic of our nation. On the national level, the current presidential race has propelled immigration to a national discussion. And the world, as evidenced through measures like Brexit, is feeling nativist pulses as "terrorist" attacks from "outsiders" become prominent in the media. This is why we feel that now is the time to have discussions about immigration and immigration as a social justice issue. Who are immigrants? How is the immigrant experience different than that of a non-immigrant? What does it feel like to be invisible in the classroom? How do social class, ethnicity, and language intersect to form the immigrant experience? Now is the time to have these discussions.

In particular, our trip focuses on how differences in language affect the educational experiences of young, immigrant children. We will interact with this social issue in the Rio Grande Valley (South Texas), where discussions about topics like bilingual education are prevalent. We have some exciting partnerships forming with UTRGV and community partners in the area. NOW is the time to have these important discussions. Please join us if you're interested in developing empathy, learning about engaged citizenship, and having real conversations about this social issue. 


From Communities to Clinics: How Your Zip Code Determines Your Health

Location: Austin, Texas 

What comes to mind when you hear the word “health”? Most people think of doctors and hospitals, but research shows that it’s what happens outside the hospitals that serves as a stronger determinant of health. Your neighborhood’s access to resources and infrastructure, safety, and community involvement and support all contribute to community health. We aim to explore how and why people’s neighborhoods of residence have become strong indicators of their health outcomes, and how the health disparities between neighborhoods can be mitigated through health policy and healthcare institutions. Because the state legislature will be in session during our trip, Austin, TX is the ideal location to collaborate with policy makers, healthcare institutions, and local non-profits. By the end of this experience, we hope to better understand the complexities of the root causes of health inequity and learn to become better advocates for change.


Breaking Down Barriers: Exploring Adaptation to Disability and Independent Living*

Location: Denver, Colorado 

The idea that people with disabilities do not live independently is a widespread stereotype and misconception that offers incredible potential for challenging and learning new perspectives. This trip aims to motivate all members to become better advocates for people with disabilities and learn through pre-trip education about how people with disabilities are limited by a lack of resources to adapt accordingly to their surroundings. Disability policies and resources differ drastically from state to state. Our group will be traveling to Colorado in order to compare the accessibility of resources for individuals with disabilities to those in Texas. We will be working with individuals with all types of disabilities, with a particular focus on the visually impaired.

We'll begin our pre-trip education in Houston with local agencies like "Disability Rights Texas" to begin exploring the contrast between Texas and Colorado. Once in Colorado, we will start the trip in Winter Park, CO, home to the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD), one of the largest outdoor therapeutic recreation and adaptive sports agencies in the world. We will then travel to Denver, CO where we will spend a day learning from the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition before moving on to our final destination, the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB). Our participants will have a hands-on service learning experience over the course of the year and learn to be more effective advocates. In addition, participants can expect to develop a more holistic conception of disability, including the ins and outs of daily life, social and personal implications.


Breaking Bonds and Lifting Barriers: Addressing How Race Defines Cycles of Incarceration and Homelessness*

Location: New York City, New York 

In the United States, one’s risk of experiencing homelessness is no longer only related to their economic status. Statistically, people who have previously been incarcerated are at a much higher risk of experiencing homelessness, and people who have been homeless make up a large majority of the incarcerated population. Studies have shown that many within each group often shift toward the other, creating what is known as a cycle. Furthermore, people of color make up a stark majority of both populations. We must confront not only how homelessness and incarceration are directly perpetuating each other, but also how racial injustice plays a pivotal role in the overrepresentation of racial minorities in this cycle. Our ASB examines not only the policies in place that perpetuate racial bias in this relationship, but also the responses of the respective communities to this issue. We’ll collaborate with policy advocates, government agencies, and community leaders in how they are tackling this issue in order to strengthen ourselves as advocates in our own communities. With New York City as the location of our trip, we’ll work with these local partners and see how these efforts could fit into the community of Houston.


You Are My Clarity: Focusing the Lens; Confronting the Lack of Social Support that Perpetuates Homelessness

Location: New York City, New York 

Our ASB will explore the issue of homelessness from a holistic perspective. Homelessness both stems from and is prolonged by a multitude of facets like mental illness, affordable housing, employment, foster care, poverty, and substance abuse. Though these factors and more contribute to the perpetuation of homelessness, we have identified a lack of social support as the key element which proliferates this social issue. Homelessness is always visible, especially in urban spaces such as Houston and New York City. Yet, its ubiquity has left a trail of apathy rather than advocacy for the issue. Though many organizations and policymakers are making great strides in resolving this injustice, it’s still largely ignored by the majority of the population. In many social circles, in fact, the issue is not simply ignored but has become taboo. Because of this, we hope to help open the dialogue on homelessness and motivate others to stand up for social justice. In our ASB, we hope to not only create advocates of our participants but also to educate them as to the complexities of that role.

Besides this, we will also be working on a documentary to illustrate not only the complexities of homelessness but also the Rice ASB experience in its entirety. From our pre-trip meetings and service activities at organizations in Houston to our week in New York, we hope to capture our experiences tackling this social issue. Though we hope to capture our own journey and education to become advocates, we do not plan to film any of the people who are affected by this issue. This documentary will not create a spectacle of the community with which we have chosen to work. Rather, because we cannot always be a support system for these individuals, we hope making something that can be shared with others will aid in the formation a larger net of social support for those experiencing homelessness. Through this journey, we aim to not only become more informed and passionate about this social injustice but also to learn how to become advocates unafraid of standing up for social justice.

Don't Hold Me Back: Exploring Adaptation to Disability in Recreation and Everyday Life

Location: Winter Park & Littleton, Colorado  

Nearly one in five people in the US have a disability, with over half of these considered severe. The "Don’t Hold Me Back" team will focus on disability as a social issue with a critical service-learning based approach. Specifically, our group will work with individuals who have limited or no vision, and individuals who have a rare genetic skin disorder called Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB). To prepare for the trip, our group will partner with local Houston agencies such as “Lighthouse Houston” and “Disability Rights Texas” to get familiar with local resources for those with disabilities, gain experience working with this community, and learn about issues that still need societal attention.

The experience begins in Winter Park, Colorado, home to the National Sports Center for the Disabled, one of the largest outdoor therapeutic recreation and adaptive sports agencies in the world. There, we will be working with Camp Spirit, a program for kids and young adults with EB. Our formal role will be one of support, skiing alongside trained volunteer instructors and campers who will be using sit skis for a safe, thrilling (and sometimes once in a lifetime) skiing experience. Equally important, however, are the meaningful relationships that will be formed between the campers and the participants, often continuing beyond the week of service. After confronting the ups and downs of the slopes together and evenings of games and activities, the atmosphere is set for openness, sharing, and learning. Following the awards ceremony and farewells, the team heads to its final destination: Littleton, Colorado, the location of the Colorado Center for the Blind. There, we will participate in a blind simulation experience using sleep shades and assist the center with small hands-on projects. Each team member will be paired with a student at the center who will mentor us through this unique and challenging experience. Prepare to enjoy small victories, experience a world without visual judgment, and realize that hey--blind people can do that too.

Through these experiences, our participants will gain a first-hand understanding of the ways that these institutions empower individuals with a variety of disabilities, facilitating self-reliance and enjoyable adaptive experiences. In this way, participants can expect to develop a more holistic conception of disability, including the ins and outs of daily life, social and personal implications, and medical information. We hope to better understand the challenges faced by each of these unique communities, how to best support them while respecting their independence, and how to become better advocates for them.


Who Run the World? Girls! - Exploring Gender Inequality in all Sectors of Society, From Policy to People

Location: Washington D. C.  

Who Run the World? GIRLS! will journey to Washington, D.C. to explore issues of gender inequality. We will dive into the areas of economic justice, health care, leadership, and empowerment and examine how they affect every aspect of our lives, from policy decisions to personal interactions.

Washington, D.C. is a critical center for policy making; therefore, we will meet with a diverse array of policy-focused institutions to engage in conversations about gender inequality. In terms of service, we will be partnering with Girls Inc. and Becky’s Fund. Participants will work closely with issues of intimate partner violence, women’s empowerment and leadership, and self-esteem.

We aim to gain a strong understanding of the ways that structural barriers, as well as components of race, class, and sexuality, impact lives, both locally and across communities in the United States. By combining service and policy, we aim to begin the process of creating informed, effective advocates for social change in whatever communities we serve.


There’s No Place Like Home: Exploring the Impact of Community Redevelopment on Housing Inequalities and Homelessness in New Orleans

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana 

New Orleans is a city with deep cultural and historical roots, marked by its important role in national industry and commerce.  However, like any major city, New Orleans faced many social issues prevalent throughout the South even before Hurricane Katrina.  The destruction caused by the storm presented a unique opportunity for the city to re-evaluate and rebuild. Much of the new growth was positive - business expansion, the boom of the tourism industry, New Orleans’ unprecedented initiative to end chronic veteran homelessness. However, gentrification and revitalization efforts within the city have caused housing costs to skyrocket, and as a result, many native residents are finding it difficult to afford housing or are choosing not to return to the city at all. Our trip will examine the housing inequalities that were created and widened in Katrina’s wake. We will also explore homelessness as the most severe form of housing inequality and challenge stereotypes and pre-existing stigmas about those experiencing homelessness. Within this framework, we will analyze homelessness as a state of living, not a state of being.


A Glass Half-Full: A Look into the Current Water Crisis in California and Strategies to Preserve our World’s Greatest Resource

Location: San Francisco & Sacramento, California

If the state of California were a country, it would have the eighth-largest economy in the world. However, this industrial and agricultural powerhouse is in a state of emergency, deep in a 3-year drought worse than any seen in over a century. The issue has incredibly extensive and deep effects on the lives of the people of California. Beyond brown lawns and shorter showers, this drought has had resounding impacts on the economy, agriculture, and the ecology across the varied ecosystems of the state. It has even raised the issue of water as a human right as wells and taps dry up and inequalities over water rights and access persist. On this Alternative Spring Break trip, we will examine the impacts of the drought, visiting local farms and communities most affected in the areas of San Francisco, Sacramento, and Fresno. We will also get to explore some of the causes and exacerbating factors, looking at the issue through the lens of climate change and policy. Finally, we will address the issue in working with local water boards and conservancies and by supporting organizations that are raising awareness in the local communities in an effort to promote water conservation and sustainability.

Exposing the Hidden Industry: An Intersectional Examination of Human Trafficking

Location: Houston, Texas

Human trafficking, the cruel and brutal exploitation of human beings for labor or sex through coercion or fraud, is a multi-billion-dollar industry that affects millions of people around the world, including in the United States. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, our very own city of Houston ranks No. 1 among U.S. cities for the estimated number of people trafficked. Despite its extensive reach, human trafficking has only recently come into the public consciousness, and even now there are common misconceptions about what human trafficking is and what it looks like. We often encounter trafficked people in everyday situations, such as seeing construction site workers or talking to door-to-door salespeople, without even realizing that these people are being trafficked. Human trafficking is a crime that depends on widespread public ignorance and thrives in the shadows. Our trip seeks to bring this crime to light.

Our trip will not only address some common misconceptions about human trafficking, but will also provide an intersectional and holistic overview of the issue. We will examine how a variety of factors, including age, gender, socioeconomic status, sexuality, and nationality, make certain populations more vulnerable for exploitation in human trafficking. Participants will examine both the supply and demand sides of human trafficking, and explore the factors that create power disparities and enable the exploitation of vulnerable populations.

In order to do so, we will partner with Love146 to work with homeless youth and participate in Hotel-Motel Outreach, a project to promote awareness of human trafficking and make resources more visible in the Houston Community. We will also work with other local organizations by taking part in training sessions and seminars similar to those given to professionals who work with victims of human trafficking. In addition, trip participants will also learn about the actions taken by local, state, and federal organizations to combat human trafficking and help victims of this hidden industry. 


Exposures: Zooming in on Houston Healthcare Disparities

Location: Houston, Texas

Our trip aims to create a holistic picture of Houston healthcare, exploring disparities in access and quality. We will examine how Houston’s diversity (particularly its socioeconomic, racial, and cultural/linguistic diversity) interacts with and influences these disparities. We will learn about Houston’s role as a healthcare hub, hearing the stories of patients and families who travel here for highly specialized care. We will strive, through a combination of critical service and community engagement, to uncover the causes for these disparities, as well as what various organizations are doing to mitigate them. By the end of this trip, we hope participants will gain not only a nuanced understanding of Houston's healthcare system, but also the skills to become lifelong advocates for social justice.


Better Together: Exploring Motivations to Eliminate Social and Educational Inequality through Faith and Philosophy

Location: Houston, Texas

The purpose of this Alternative Spring Break trip is twofold: we want to examine the state of education inequality in the Houston area as well as look into the religious and non-religious organizations that are tackling the issue of educational disparities. Service is something that we feel called to do for our communities across religious and philosophical traditions, and by serving together, we can learn more about those with whom we might typically feel we share little common ground. As students at Rice, we are given amazing educational opportunities and have thrived as a result of successful education systems. We want to give back to our community here in Houston while also examining the motivations that drive us to do service in the first place.

In order to approach the topic of education inequality we will be working with third-party organizations sponsored or run by faith-based institutions that provide academic tutoring, leadership training, and access to resources that students might otherwise be lacking. Our two community partners are Pleasant Hill Leadership Institute and the Nehemiah Neighborhood Center. Both are affiliated with the Christian faith (PHLI is a program at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church), but we will also be learning about and visiting other faith- or philosophy-based organizations that provide academic help to students in the Houston area. 

Our trip is based in Houston because we’re at the center of the most diverse city in the nation, including religious backgrounds. This provides a great opportunity for us to learn more about other parts of the city where we live while also engaging with organizations and people that we otherwise would not interact with if we didn’t go “beyond the hedges.” We also wanted to utilize the opportunity to form stronger relationships with our community partners by serving and volunteering with them before and after the trip, not just during the week of Spring Break. 

Applicants are encouraged from any or no religious background. We also are accepting students with any level of familiarity and knowledge of the education system or religious tolerance and cooperation.


From Classrooms to Congress; Deepening the Understanding of Public Policy's Effect on Education Quality Disparity

Location: Houston, Texas

This trip will focus on the intersection of public policy and education. We aim to explore how legislative policies and school practices influence the disparity in the quality of education received by students. Specific issues that will be addressed include school funding, districting, differences in school models, and individual school policies. Houston provides the ideal setting to explore these issues. The city’s educational environment is unique in that it is home to both the largest public-school district and highest number of students enrolled in public charter schools in Texas. Additionally, there is currently an ongoing statewide debate on the adequacy and distribution of school funding. Participants will spend a large portion of the week working at a public charter school and also participating in school policy discussions with a student-led group of HISD students. Both of these experiences will be framed by conversations with school-policy experts and advocates at Rice and in the Houston community.


Family Matters: How Support Systems Impact Education Inequality

Location: Houston, Texas

Education inequality is a complex and multifaceted issue that impacts individuals on many levels. While policy-related factors such as funding, access, and school types have an important impact on educational quality, a student’s situation outside of school can have just as much impact on his/her learning. Family Matters: How Support Systems Impact Education Inequality seeks to explore the intersection between how different home environments and community support systems can foster a student’s intellectual and social development, increase access to educational opportunities, and fight against the achievement gap. By having an open dialogue on these topics, we hope to better understand these systems of support and become informed advocates for their success.

To gain awareness and experiential learning, we will spend our spring break week in the Fifth Ward, an area with great history located northeast of downtown Houston, TX. Initially established in 1866, Fifth Ward grew into a vibrant community, but the area faced many challenges, including educational disparities born of systems of inequality at the state and federal levels. However, many educational initiatives, such as Small Steps and the Fifth Ward Enrichment Program, have been established as a result of the community’s strong activism and involvement. By working with these organizations, we hope to be able to immerse ourselves into this community and contribute to the current endeavors to close the educational gap.

We aim to work with community partners in the Fifth Ward that provide services necessary for students’ intellectual and social development. Our primary community partners are Fifth Ward Enrichment Program (FWEP), Small Steps, and Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation.


Healthcare on the Hill: How Inequality Makes Us Sick

Location: Washington D. C.  

Health is influenced by a variety of factors that are outside the scope of what is traditionally considered “healthcare.” The social determinants of health, or the circumstances and laws that create an unequal distribution of economic opportunities and resources, contribute heavily to the disparities of health that exist between groups of different social status. Health disparities hinder upward mobility and progress. It is well established that women, minorities, and those of low socioeconomic status are at a disproportionate risk for lacking access to care and having worse health outcomes. While both the individual and society are responsible for public health problems, a disproportionate responsibility needs to be placed on those elements of society that significantly contribute to health inequity.

“Healthcare on the Hill” participants will spend one week in Washington DC learning how to address health inequity from both a service and policy standpoint. Through service work, we will see how individual contributions can improve health outcomes in a community, and through interacting with policy institutions, we will gain insight on how legislation can be used to address issues on a societal level. Because DC is the heart of legislation in the US, it is the ideal place to learn from organizations that are involved in advocacy efforts that champion broad social change.

Each organization that we will work with will address health inequity both directly and indirectly by incorporating the social determinants of health. Through service experiences and policy conversations, our participants will gain a deeper understanding of how to incorporate economic and social realities of a community into healthcare. Participants can expect to learn how public policy can be utilized to adequately address infrastructure that can prevent disease. Through this trip, our participants will become informed advocates and active citizens in the healthcare sector.