As a follow-up to the January 2013 civil rights-themed Immersion Trip to Alabama, led by CWI associate director Jill Ogline Titus, the students participating in the project organized a visit to Gettysburg College for members of a middle school/high school youth theatre organization the group met in Selma. From March 26-28, 25 youth and 10 adults from the Random Acts of Theatre Company (RATCO) made the college their home, spending their time visiting classes, dancing/writing poetry/singing with Gettysburg students, faculty and staff, eating in the dining hall, and participating in eRace, the college's weekly racial justice dialogue. RATCO members gave two “Rock the Movement” performances during their visit, the first at Gettysburg Area Middle School and the second to a standing room-only crowd at the college. See a clip of the performance below.
CWI director Peter Carmichael gave the group a special tour of the battlefield (image at left), focusing on questions of memory, violence, and the relationship between Civil War combat and the destruction of slavery. The group visited the Rose Farm, Little Round Top, and the Alabama Memorial, using historic photographs and period documents to convey a sense of the historical moment.
Members of the group – many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds in which higher education can often seem out of reach – also spent time with Gettysburg College Admissions office staff, talking about the college admissions process.
A core group of students who participated in the Alabama trip – Cam Nguyen ‘13, Amelia Grabowski ‘13, Hannah Frantz ‘13, Laura Koenig '15, and Signe Carlson ‘15 – made all of the arrangements for the visit, raised nearly $7,000, and worked with RATCO leaders each step of the way, with support from CWI and the Center for Public Service.
Based in Selma, a city known for its iconic role in the struggle against racial discrimination in voting, RATCO builds on the foundations laid by the civil rights movement, continuing the fight for a more equitable society. In a city still profoundly divided by lines of race and class, RATCO brings youth of a variety of ages, colors, creeds, and backgrounds together several nights a week to express themselves through music, dance, and written words, creating a safe and supportive space for them to build respectful and diverse relationships, and challenge the cycle of poverty and racism.
Committed to making use of members’ diverse talents, RATCO youth jointly choreograph their own dances, exercising care to select moves that will showcase each member of the group’s strengths. Those who enjoy writing often write lyrics or poetry for performance, frequently drawing their themes from the challenges and victories of their own lives. In the summer, the group stages full-scale musical theatre performances. Their performances are high-energy and fun, filled with positive messages about self-expression, social justice, nonviolence, and respect for oneself and others.
The visit exceeded student organizers’ goals – introducing RATCO youth to a small liberal arts institution and challenging members of the college and greater Gettysburg communities to become advocates for social, racial, and economic justice – and generated a great deal of excitement in the community. Gettysburg students will continue to travel to Selma annually as part of future Alabama Immersion Projects, and organizers hope to continue to build a lasting relationship between RATCO and the college. CWI is deeply committed to encouraging hands-on experiential learning opportunities that blend scholarship and service, and will continue to support students’ involvement in the Alabama trip, and work to create new opportunities for travel programs that connect history to present-day concerns.