Alternative Fall Break Student Spotlight: Roman VernThe Alternative Break program here at Puget Sound gives students the opportunity to learn about and engage in different topics surrounding social justice through discussions, lectures, and volunteering. In addition, the program allows students to visit local areas that are relevant to the program’s theme, which also gives insight on how the topic is specifically relevant to Tacoma. This year’s Alt. Fall Break took place October 17-21 and focused on the broader issue of immigration and citizenship, as well as how this issue is applicable to Tacoma and to students on campus. The group who participated in the Break learned about immigration policies, the history of immigration in both the United States and specifically Tacoma, and examined the way that experiences of undocumented Puget Sound students may differ from those with a documented status. The program was also able to visit a few sites in Tacoma, including the Detention Center, Tacoma Community House, and the Chinese Reconciliation Park.
To Puget Sound senior Roman Vern, a participant of this semester’s program, Alt. Fall Break was an inspiring and eye-opening experience. “In retrospect, I get a little angry with myself and campus culture at UPS for not making immigration and deportation a more recognized issue through discourse and action. Especially when Tacoma is such a recognized place within the issue,” Vern says. The Northwest Detention Center, which holds detainees for deportation, is located here in Tacoma and relatively close to the University, but many students currently attending Puget Sound are still unaware of its existence and the problems that center around it. “I know I was inspired from Alt. Fall Break to make efforts in promoting recognition of the detention center and helping local families that have a dependent family member detained.” Education about social issues like this in a classroom setting is one thing, but learning about them with a real life context really has the ability to offer a new kind of perspective. “Through coursework, I was made aware of some immigration issues, but I never could really make a substantial emotional connection to it just from what I learned in class,” critiqued Vern. Although immigration and citizenship were never really of focus of Vern’s academic or personal interests before, after having the chance to participate in Alt. Fall Break, he found a deeper emotional connection to these issues. In regard to future Alt. Breaks, Vern says that if he was both available and on campus, he would definitely take the chance to sign up for another one.
Vern has had the chance to be involved in several other types of service, and has worked with organizations like Metro Parks, the Boys and Girls Club, and other volunteer activities on and off campus. Also as a member of the Phi Delta Theta Greek organization on campus, Vern has also participated in Greek philanthropy service projects. “I think Greek life here at UPS does quite a bit of civic work in the Tacoma area, of which I’m very proud of. Whether it’s each house’s philanthropy events or IFC events where much of the Greek community joins in together to help out local charities, Greek life’s civic engagement is a high priority for all houses.” Vern says, however, that Greek life has the potential to do more. “With the amount of people and resources within the Greek community’s system to get involved in civic engagement, we are capable of much more and should continue to strive to fully utilize those resources towards civic engagement.”