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Difference Makers

Students give back during alternative spring break trips

Instead of heading to the beach over spring break, a select group of Bridgewater State University students devoted time to making a difference.

Every year, the Martin Richard Institute for Social Justice (MRISJ) offers an alternative spring break program that gives students the opportunity to gain knowledge through civic engagement, direct service, and critical reflection.  

“It’s a fun way to spend spring break. Instead of going on an expensive or unsafe trip, you can do something that will further your personal growth and connect you to the Bridgewater community and beyond,” said student co-leader Maggie Kalstein, ’24.

Three different trips were offered this year, the Coalition for Social Justice in Southeastern Massachusetts; The Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth and Reconciliation in Selma, Alabama; and the Steinbruck Center at Luther Place in Washington, DC. 

A group stands in front of the capital building in washington dc

“Coming out of this experience, I learned a lot,” said Keneen Maisonneuve, ’25, who served as a student team co-leader on the Selma trip. “It helped me have a better understanding of who I am, the type of person I am, and will help shape what type of career I want to have.”

Eight students led by Learning Partners Diane Bell, vice president of Outreach and Engagement, Michael Sandy, director of Study Abroad at the Minnock Institute for Global Engagement, and Margaret Lowe, history professor traveled to Selma where they collaborated with the Selma Center for Nonviolence. 

This was the first time BSU has offered an alternative spring break trip to Selma, which is best known as the home of the brutal March 7, 1965, “Bloody Sunday” beatings on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, during the first march for voting rights. Selma is home to many Civil Rights sites.

Students worked with volunteers from the center at a local farm that provides fresh produce to area locals and serves as an educational tool teaching planting, cooking, and sustainability skills. 

According to Lowe, the group also visited The National Memorial for Peace and Justice Museum, dedicated to the victims of racial terror lynchings as well as The Legacy Museum, that provided first-person historical accounts and interactive content covering topics like enslavement and racial terrorism. 

“It was a lot to process for our students, the exhibits were really moving,” Lowe said. 

The overall experience was so impactful, that Keneen signed up to be a Selma Center Ambassador. 

“Now that I’m back home, I continue to use my voice to spread awareness of the work they are doing in Selma,” she said. “I felt such a strong sense of belonging and community there and want to help Selma get to where it wants to go.”

Bringing the knowledge gained back to BSU is important, said Genesis Guerroro, ’24, a social work major who was a student co-leader on the Washington DC trip.  Anthropology professor Simone Poliandri and Victoria Field, assistant director of the Center for Student Engagement, served as learning partners. 

“All experiences are focused on service and reflection,” Genesis said. “We aren’t just going somewhere for a week and then we’re done. We reflect on the root causes...what can we bring back to the Bridgewater community or communities? What can we do with what we learned?”

The Washington DC group concentrated on food insecurity and homelessness and spent a week working with the Steinbruck Center. They volunteered at a domestic violence shelter for women, and nonprofit groups DC Central Kitchen and Bread for the City. 

“We went to DC to really just learn and educate ourselves. We didn’t want to go down and do the work and that was it,” said student co-leader and psychology major Summa Slater, ’25. “These opportunities really fuel the passion in my heart for the work I want to be doing.”

Locally, Maggie Kalstein and Sophia Quish, ’27, led a group in the local alternative break program with the Coalition for Social Justice (CSJ) Education Fund. 

Through the CSJ, students took a trip to the State House where they met with members of the state legislature and had the opportunity to share issues important to them. They also visited Norton High School to discuss civic engagement with youth and participated in activism art. 

“We talk a lot about social justice and wanting to make a difference, but it’s often an abstract thought,” Maggie said. “The alternative break program really does show you that it’s not just a possibility, but pretty easy to reach out to legislators.” 

A group stands in front of a statue of two hands interlocked

Applications for the Spring 2025 alternative spring break program will open in early fall 2024. MRISJ Director of Programs Jennifer Thibodeau encourages interested students to check out the MRISJ website and social media accounts (Instagram: @bsumrisj, X: @bsumrisj, Facebook:

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