In a year upended, the Warrior spirit has prevailed and students continue to find ways to adapt and carry on beloved Wayne State traditions. Alternative Spring Break Detroit (ASBD) virtually brought together students from March 14-19 for an immersive experience grounded in service and celebrating Detroit.
“Alternative Spring Break Detroit has been a formative experience for Wayne State students for nearly 20 years,” said Brandon Shamoun, who oversees the program in the Dean of Students Office (DOSO). “We knew it would have to look different this year, but our commitment to Detroit is unwavering, and these kinds of connections are more important than ever.”
Hosted by DOSO annually as an alternative to a “traditional” spring break that often includes beaches and parties, the program immerses students in volunteering and learning opportunities around the city. This year, 55 students were selected for the program, including 7 student leaders who served as coordinators.
To accommodate as many students as possible and combat Zoom fatigue, the program was split into Green and Gold cohorts who met virtually with community leaders and organizations on alternating days throughout the week. The week included many elements of the traditional ASBD, including a virtual tour hosted by the Detroit Experience Factory, conversations with more than 20 community leaders and organizations providing services related to everything from food insecurity, unstable housing, medical care and rehabilitation to children’s services, beautification, and the arts.
Sarah McCall, a graduate student pursuing an M.B.A. in the Mike Ilitch School of Business, said that ASBD was something she had always wanted to participate as an undergraduate student, but had not previously been able to. She credits the program’s virtual format with carrying on an important WSU legacy in a convenient and accessible way.
“Wayne State is not just a university in Detroit, we’re a part of Detroit,” she said. “This program creates an opportunity and awareness for us to really engage with the contextual history of WSU and the city, and to see ourselves as important, influential players in Detroit’s future. Our influence in the city is cyclical. Effective leadership requires service and service-learning, and ASBD builds those skills which ultimately shape us as individuals, as well as our community and our shared future."
While in-person volunteering was not possible, ASBD student coordinator Niharika Dantuluri said that the virtual environment provided for meaningful conversations. The virtual environment also allowed students, like McCall, to participate from anywhere, and to do so while managing work, family, and other responsibilities.
“I was surprised that we were able to recreate the experience,” said Dantuluri. “The virtual format and smaller cohorts allowed for more to participate, and for the same relationships to form and build.”
Dantuluri first participated in ASBD as a second-year student, and five years later remains committed to the program as a graduate student in the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Dantuluri met fellow student coordinator Sara Ellias, a third-year student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, through ASBD and the two remain close friends.
“You meet the most amazing people in ASBD. We may have different professional and academic interests, but we’re united in a sense of service and community. Those bonds have not changed,” said Ellias.
Another favorite element of ASBD was also adopted for a virtual format: a sampling of Detroit’s local restaurants via GrubHub and a surprise pizza delivery coordinated across multiple states by Shamoun, who first participated with ASBD as a student himself eight years ago.
“It was kind of a silly, fun thing to have pizza show up for all of us at the same time. Knowing the work that Brandon and everyone else put in to make sure ASBD happened this year affirms just how special this experience is,” said Ellias. “It’s about the connections, and about recognizing the ability WSU has to impact Detroit. Those things endure.”
The 2021 ASBD included the following organizations:
- Arts & Scraps
- Auntie Na’s Village
- Cass Community
- The Children’s Center
- Day House Detroit
- Detroit Abloom
- Detroit Black Community Food Security Network
- Detroit Community Fridge
- Detroit Impact
- Freedom House Detroit
- Green Door Initiative
- Green Living Science
- G. R. E. A. T. Action Team
- Heidelberg Project
- Hope House Detroit
- Keep Growing Detroit
- Life Remodeled
- Mariners Inn
- Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health
- Motor City Blight Busters
- Starfish Family Services