IUPUI Freedom Rides Trace Civil Unrest in the Midwest

Freedom Rides is a five year running social justice trip for students “Tracing Civil Unrest in the Midwest.” During spring break, students will travel from Indianapolis to Cincinnati to Chicago over the course of five days. Participants will attend leadership development programs, tour a gentrified neighborhood, and learn about Civil Rights in Chicago.

“It was developed as an extramural trip, in addition to the Alternative Breaks program we offer, that was really focused on leadership development and social justice education,” says Corinne Patterson, the Coordinator for Leadership at the IUPUI Division of Student Affairs.

She said differing from the alternative spring break programs, service based trips taking place during IUPUI’s spring break,Freedom Rides is an experiential learning, low commitment trip for students, especially heavily involved students on campus, to work with their peers, and not only develop leadership skills but also learn how to implement them.

The first day of the ride, students will travel an hour and half to the University of Cincinnati. Participants will go to a YMCA camp where the focus will be on building their community for the trip.

“The whole first day is about community building and setting a foundation for our community. Having early initial conversations about our own leadership styles and identities, and building the community because the dialogues we’re going to be having for the rest of the week are going to be much more challenging,” Patterson said.

On day two of the trip students will be able to get their hands dirty. Participants will meet with two community partners, the University of Cincinnati Racial Awareness Program and the Cincinnati National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Visiting the University of Cincinnati will educate IUPUI students on how to become leaders in change and create change on an urban campus. The UC Racial Awareness Program is in its 30th year, and is the longest running racial awareness program in the country. The program is preparing a three hour long interactive panel for the students on the freedom ride to offer insight and ideas for IUPUI students to bring change in their own community.

At the Cincinnati National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, the participants will be getting a tour, and learning about historic activism and what the program is calling millennial activism. Patterson uses the story of Sam Dubose, an unarmed black man who was shot off campus by a University of Cincinnati police officer in summer of 2015, to illustrate the importance of ongoing activism in communities.

“When thinking about millennial activism, I think many people think about community organizing against police brutality and on campus organizing against racial injustice in higher education,” Patterson said.

Day three will explore the issue of gentrification, the issue of renewing and rebuilding deteriorating neighborhoods to accommodate the influx of middle class and pushing out poorer residents.  

“IUPUI played a major role in the displacement of west side residents in Indianapolis,” Patterson said. “So gentrification is an issue that is very salient for the university and for our students.”

The trip will travel to Peaslee Neighborhood Center in Cincinnati. Peaslee neighborhood is one of the most heavily gentrified neighborhoods in Cincinnati. The center works with Peaslee residents to fight developers and try to maintain their neighborhood how it is.

Students will go through a walking tour of Peaslee to see how the neighborhood has changed with new multi-million building being added by older buildings that are no longer cared for. It will make students more aware of the gentrification of Indianapolis, and how to go into those areas to create change.

That same day, Freedom Rides will go from Cincinnati to Chicago. Day four will be spent at the Chicago History Museum which hold a step by step tour that travels to the places Martin Luther King Jr. went to during the Civil Rights Movement while he was in Chicago. After there will be another tour at the museum that emphasizes Civil Rights in the 1960s, a time that is heavily influential on social justice organizations in the city.

Day five will be spent at Chicago Freedom School, a nonprofit institution that gives youth the tools they need to implement change in their lives. The two hour long workshop will allow students to share what they have learned, what is being done and what they want to be done on IUPUI’s campus.

Each day will end with conversations about what the participants learned and experienced.

“We’ll discuss how people view Millennials and how that impacts how successful they are [in creating change] and how they’re portrayed in the media and the differences of racism in the Midwest and the south where these trips originally took place,” Patterson said.

When asked what she hopes students take away from the experience she said “I think a lot of time students want to see change on campus, but don’t really know how to navigate an institution...working with the University of Cincinnati, where student activist have learned how to work with the institution instead of pushing back against it, will help [IUPUI] students create change they want to see on campus.”

Patterson hopes working with the University of Cincinnati and Chicago Freedom School will serve as the foundation to not only bring social injustice awareness, education, and change to IUPUI and Indianapolis, but that it will create change across city and campus lines in the Midwest.