You have probably passed by the small art gallery next to The Princeton Review office in the UC before. For the first time, The Exploration: Exploring Social Justice For All series is on display at UTSA’s Gallery 23 and it’s something worth visiting for students.
The Exploration: Exploring Social Justice For All exhibit documents the experience 40 UTSA students felt as they traveled to important civil rights movement sites. The various photographs show iconic images from Kelly Ingram Park, the Lorraine Motel and the Slave Haven Underground Railroad.
UTSA’s Student Leadership Center sponsors the Civil Rights Exploration trip, a unique experience that educates and engages students in the history of the civil rights movement. Forty students are chosen through an application process to travel to New Orleans, Birmingham and Memphis.
The Paisano sat down with Christian Ume-Ezeoke, who has attended the Exploration trip twice and was a student facilitator for the latest trip, to talk to him about his experience with Exploration.
What is a student facilitator and what were your responsibilities as one?
Last year we had students and staff hold a debriefing session on all of the places we had visited during the day. A student facilitator puts the students into small groups and asks questions that are related to what they have seen during the day. I think the student facilitator’s role is important because other students are able to open up when you are able to share your experience and relate to you more than the staff.
How did you become involved with this program?
I found out through my job at The Student Leadership Center. The center offers an application for the civil rights movement trip every year, but it was LeaderShape that got me involved in this program. Ever since I applied to LeaderShape, I’ve been involved in the Student Leadership Center and Student Government Association and other great things. The center not only gives you the leadership aspect, but also helps you stay focused in the classroom.
What is the application process like?
Within the application they have questions related to social justice and social issues. You answer those questions to the best of your abilities and a selection committee chooses the top 40 students they think answer the questions best.
Do these trips count as a course credit?
That’s a great idea, but these trips do not. It’s an experience that helps you be empathetic to things that happened prior and helps (minority) students view how we got to where we are today. The humbling experience makes you not take things for granted today. I really want more students to be a part of this program because I don’t think I would be the individual I am today without this department.
What location did you like best?
I’d have to say Memphis because we got to visit the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr., was (shot). We got to explore the exhibit set up in the area, we saw the suspect’s rifle, (King’s) room duplicated and the window where he was shot. That’s definitely one of my favorite places.
Did have a favorite piece for this exhibit?
There are so many! If I was going to choose a favorite, there was a piece last year with bronze statues of dogs lunging at you from all sides. It reminded you of the dogs attacking civil rights movement members, though all the pieces were great.
Is there one location that epitomizes the Civil Rights Movement?
Yes! It’s called the Slave Haven. A slave owner had an underground, secret spot where he hid slaves and helped them escape. We got to actually climb down to where (the slaves were hidden). It was pretty dark in there, and light only came in through small holes. The only picture of that being exhibited is of students walking into the spot.
What do you want students to take away from The Exploration series?
I believe age does not define maturity; experiences in life define maturity. I want students to go in and be motivated to experience what people before me had to do in order for me to have my freedom today. This experience stays with you for the rest of your life. As a Nigerian, being able to see what African-Americans went through for their civil rights — I try to relate to that.
For more information about the program, visit utsa.edu/uctr/gallery23. The Exploration exhibit will be held at Gallery 23 until May 16.