For the 14th year, HNU students traveled with faculty and staff to Tutwiler, Mississippi, to learn about social, economic, and political issues that impact this rural community, and to work with Habitat for Humanity to build homes for community residents.
The 22 participants—which included Sister Sophia Park, PhD, associate professor of religious studies and philosophy, Freddy Gutierrez, MFA, assistant dean of student affairs and coordinator of social justice and civic engagement, Douglas Phenix, assistant director and coordinator of career services, graduate assistant Deja Alewine, and 18 HNU students—spent a week in the area.
The annual Tutwiler trip is coordinated through HNU’s Center for Social Justice and Civic Engagement and offers students an opportunity to immerse themselves in the history and current issues of small Southern communities. During the week-long trip, the group visited a variety of landmarks, museums, and community centers in the area including the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and the Sumner Courthouse and Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, Mississippi, which honors the memory of Emmett Till, a 14 year-old African-American boy who was murdered in Mississippi in 1955. The students also provided service at the Tutwiler Community Center and visited the Sisters’ education and community centers in Jonestown, Mississippi.
During daily reflections, HNU student Alejandra Andrade said the experience made her feel privileged and made her think about how she can use all that she has to make a difference.
The group dedicated five days to building two Habitat for Humanity homes for community residents. They worked long hours on the construction of the homes, mudding, sanding, staining wood, and hammering. Student Ethan Machado said that when he saw how important the homes were to the community he wanted to do as much as possible with the time given, so whenever he started to get tired he would remind himself of the end goal and power through.
In a presentation on April 2, the staff and students who participated in the trip spoke about their experiences and what they learned while working in Tutwiler. They repeatedly expressed how life-changing the experience was for them.
Gutierrez said that jumping into the Tutwiler trip shortly after starting at HNU was truly a pleasure, a joy, and a challenge that he willfully accepted. He discussed the social responsibility that comes with the privilege of being university students and how we can refocus the work back at home.
Video of the experience by Deja Alwine: