UI should be applauded for, and expand, alternative spring break offerings


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According to MTV, spring break is synonymous with excessive alcohol use and risky sexual encounters on warm beaches.

But an increasing number of students — including at the University of Iowa — are shrugging off the stereotypical labels of collegiate apathy and indifference and choosing to volunteer, take service trips, or explore the world. Recognizing this burgeoning sentiment, the university offers trips and on-campus courses that make for an enjoyable alternative spring break.

We strongly support this program, and we encourage the UI to expand it.

The university can increase the number of students who choose responsible weeklong trips, divest the vacation of its less-than-savory connotations, and encourage responsible citizenship all at the same time.

The UI Center for Credit Programs, a division of the distance-learning department, offers students three distinct types of alternative spring breaks. Students can take off-campus “adventures,” such as scuba diving and backpacking; they can take an on-campus class for credit such as dancing and golf; or participate in altruistic endeavors such as promoting literacy in Chicago.

The program has only been in existence for three years, and it has grown tremendously since being introduced in 2008, said Doug Lee, an associate dean of the UI Division of Continuing Education.

“We want to give students more options,” Lee said. “I don’t think everybody wants to do the traditional spring-break activities.”

It seems to be working. Gobs of students — more than double the number who signed up in 2009, and four times the number in 2008 — have lined up this year to trade in weeklong booze binges or lethargy-filled days for inner-city tutoring, outdoor adventures, and other offerings. The program contributes to changing the way a portion of students view spring break and is a beneficial option for many.

For students involved in the UI’s alternative spring-break program —and others who take alternative spring-break trips outside the program — the respite is a time for helping or learning, rather than a time for drinking and partying.

Besides being great experiences, service trips build compassionate, informed citizens who are cognizant of the struggles of fellow citizens and are willing to do something about it. These experiences help build the civic ethos too often lacking in American society. In order to confront the enormous challenges of today — and the coming years and decades — it is imperative citizens develop the skills to act collectively and compassionately. These programs allow them the chance to do just that. In addition, traveling options imbue students with a greater knowledge of the world, and the on-campus classes offer students the opportunity to learn additional skills.

The program is an overall win-win for students who participate and strengthens the UI’s public image. We applaud the university’s efforts in creating a successful program that allows students to choose safer, more fulfilling spring break activities.

We support the continued expansion of the alternative spring-break program and encourage students to consider participating in it.

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