Several students are spending their spring break in Washington, D.C. as part of an educational trip sponsored by the Office of Civic Engagement, Leadership and Service.
While there, the group will visit a number of museums and monuments. The focus of the trip is learning to engage in difficult conversations on controversial topics. The students will be blogging for UofL Today about their travels and experiences.
Note: Most recent blog entries will be placed at top of page.
Learning through reflection
Looking back on our trip to Washington, D. C., I cannot imagine a better way to have spent my spring break. When I first visited Washington five years ago, the museums, memorials, and historic sites had very little attachment to me personally. Now a college student, I have amassed a historical, political, and social understanding of our country that enabled me to view D. C. with an almost entirely different lens. In summary, I would call it one of appreciation and critical thought.
Upon applying for this trip, I was told that our purpose would be to study education advocacy. I must admit that it was not until our nightly reflections after long days of sight-seeing that I truly understood what such a study meant, or how it would benefit me as a leader and student. I know that the eight students who attended this trip were selected very intentionally, because our topics of discussion always provoked different yet cohesive thoughts.
After visiting the Smithsonian Museums, we were questioned as to what groups we felt were underrepresented. Answers ranged from immigrants to women, but what struck me as the most shocking was the tremendous diversity of the people we encountered in D.C. and their patriotism for a country that may not always give them their fair share of recognition. Our visit to the Holocaust Museum also entertained a difficult yet important discussion of genocide currently occurring in our world. After seeing the photographs and hearing horrific firsthand accounts of human rights abuses during World War II, each of us would agree that genocide is not an issue for the United States to ignore. We agreed that the political debate lies in to what extent should the United States hold itself responsible for such tragedies, and if we do not assume responsibility, what is the true rationale for refusing involvement. None of these questions are easy, but they are ones that I am happy to take back with me to UofL for the sake of awareness and discussion in the classroom and on campus.
- Carrie Mattingly, political science & sociology major
Taking on Washington, D.C.
Washington D.C. was a little more than what I bargained for and all in all a great trip. Together the U of L group and I conquered the expansive Smithsonian museums, the infamous capitol building and Newseum, the appalling Holocaust museum, and lastly, Arlington Cemetery and the Kennedy Center.
No day was the same. Don’t get me wrong though, some things were tedious, yet if I said I didn’t learn anything, I’d be lying. Walking through the Smithsonians the first day, I wasn’t as amazed by what the exhibits held, but by the people that were visiting these exhibits. Everywhere, especially in the air and space Smithsonian, my ears were greeted with different languages and my eyes met foreigners. People of all races walked the halls marveling at the sights. It just sort of took me by surprise to see that our nation’s capital was something to be visited by folks from all over the world.
On the second day, our first stop was a place called The Newseum. Honestly, when the schedule said “Newseum” I thought it was a typo. Yet little did I know that the Newseum would be one of my favorite stops. Not only did the place glorify free speech, but it brought information in an interesting and fun way. It is one of the stops I would definitely visited again. After our time at the Newseum, we walked down the street to the capitol building. It was beautiful on the outside, but I don’t have much to say about the inside.
When preparing for the trip, I was quite indifferent to visiting the Holocaust museum. I am a very empathetic person, therefore there was no way I could prepare myself for all I was going to see, learn and hear. At the beginning, I was quite annoyed by the amount of people that peopled crowded down the small pathway down the somberly lit exhibits. It was crowded, and I was a little peeved that I couldn’t read all the boards nor see all the pictures. I was upset about that. This large population continued on for a large part of the trip down the Holocaust history with school children of all ages everywhere. Later on, during our group campfire talk and I ranted a bit about the amount of people, someone brought it to my attention that perhaps the layout of the museum was to symbolize what it was like for the innocent Jews that were forced onto trains that stopped at concentration camps where they were then shuffled through small pathways, and then little by little siphoned off. That blew my mind, because just as I was frustrated, I’m sure victims were too. And when I thought back, I realized that we came in with a large crowd on the elevator, and as you went through, there were less and less people around as they would take detours to hear the voices of victims that survived the Holocaust or see the inside of the bunks they lived in, etc…It was a nicely planned museum, and I would love to visit again.
Furthermore, our trip to Arlington was a bit of a hard one, because for me, one you lose someone near and dear, you don’t ever quite take cemeteries as a place of beauty, but a place of mourning. Perhaps, I was not quite ready for Arlington and its thousands of dead soldiers that fought for this country, but I was appreciative to see the people that fought for me and my rights and my freedoms.
Later on, we went to the Kennedy Center and saw a Bollywood performance. It was so cool. I was dancing in my seat (I kid you not). In conclusion, I really enjoyed seeing my nation’s capital. In my opinion it was a trip that needed to be taken, and I’m glad I did it first with some U of L friends.
- Lauren Williams, Freshman
Ten hours may have been a long car ride home back from Washington DC to Louisville, but it has only been in the days since then that I have had time to mull over what I saw on our action-packed trip. Four days in Washington may have filled my spring break with an exciting and thought-provoking conversation on our role as Americans and global citizens, but it was only the stimulus of a much greater dialogue. Now that I can reflect, I realize that Washington DC is a crossroads of an American past, present, and future, and this is why it has become a Mecca for Americans and tourists from all over the world. The United States of America is the world’s great experiment of a democratic republic and of independence, and its capital has rightly become a beacon of hope, a forum for reflection, and a birthplace of innovation.
With this being said, people would not return to Washington DC time after time if things were as simple as that. The story told in the capital reflects the diverse and even ironic history of the country it represents. Although Washington has been established to preserve history, it is a history that is admittedly predominately of the white and the rich. Although thousands of Americans visit the Holocaust Museum every year, only miles away on Capitol Hill our legislature cannot or will not intervene in current genocides because of the chains of politics. Although this country prides itself with a divergence of church and state, the eye of the rotunda of our legislative body depicts the Apotheosis of Washington, the literal becoming of a god of our first president. Washington DC proves an interesting intersection of what America believe that is was, is, and will be—an American past, present, and future we are continuing to shape today.
On our trip, our role in effecting change in our world was most obvious when our group toured the Newseum. Within this catchy-named museum of news, an entire hall was devoted to the national and world events that molded our country, as told by the front pages of American newspapers. I was able to trace through history how Americans first read the Bill of Rights, learned that Dewey apparently defeated Truman, and cried when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Combining this with the memorials we visited in DC, it was also possible to see through the news how Americans viewed international politics at the time and how that affects how we continue to perceive our history; for example, whereas the World War II Memorial features eagles trumpeting the wreaths of freedom and liberty, theVietnam War memorial is a quiet black marble wall in which you see your reflection amongst the names of the deceased.
But where do we come into this? How do we effect change? In the Newseum, the hall of headlines is not finished or stationary. Rather, the entire museum is a dynamic canvas upon which the actions of the present are recorded for the future, so that the future may learn from the present, just as the present learns from the past. This trip was not a dialogue; rather, it is a dialogue—a lesson that continues hundreds of miles from our nation’s capital and will continue well into the future. Inspired by what we experienced in Washington, it is our job to shape the future. We have the power to shape the headline that comes out on tomorrow’s newspaper, we have the power to affect war and curb genocide, to sponsor growth and to stimulate reflection It is our responsibility by being educated and liberated that we promote and protect education and liberation, and to keep this dialogue going. This trip was a great time, but I hope the discussion we began in Washington DC continues on as a dialogue throughout campus.
-Ryan Moran, Freshman, Accountancy
I have been to a few places and experienced some different cities, but not many and never with a group of people who were so different from one another yet still the same. With that being said, I’m pretty sure that going to D.C. was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I got to finally go somewhere that I’ve wanted to go since seventh grade, I got to spend time with a group of people that I knew of, but was not exactly close to, and I got to engage in intellectual discussions that opened my eyes and helped me understand what other people think/how they feel.
But, I honestly don’t think I would have enjoyed myself as much had I not made the trip the best that I could and make sure that I took everything out of the places we visited, the discussions we had, and getting to know the other people with whom I was travelling. Sure, it’s a lovely city and gives people a glimpse of American history, but it would have been hard to enjoy those aspects had I not allowed myself to do so or I found something wrong with everything we did and or every place we visited. Yes there were times when I let something little get to me, but I had to remember that the trip was what I made it and I wasn’t going to let one small thing take away from my experience. And it is because of this realization that I feel that this trip was so successful.
So, in conclusion, I love meeting new people, seeing new things, and experiencing different ways of living and thinking and I was able to do all of that on this trip.
- Sydney Morton
Perhaps the most compelling and
mouth-dropping exhibits were the hair and shoes exhibits where not only is
there a sense of knowing that those things belonged to victims of the
holocaust, but understanding what happened to those people after they departed
from their shoes. It’s moments like that, that really tore me apart.
I liked what the museum had to share and show because it’s a really powerful message; however, the museum just wasn't as moving as I thought it would be. This could have been due to the amount of people crowding the small reading and viewing areas. I'm a quick tempered individual so when someone would rudely step in front of a panel I happened to be reading, I’d get distracted from the task at hand. Having said that, I'd definitely like to enjoy the museum in the "low season" when there’s a smaller crowd. I understand that many want to and NEED to learn about the museum, but the amount of people definitely affects the way you take in the whole experience if you ask me.
All in all, the museum was great, and is something I believe everyone needs to see to get a better idea of all that went during that short devastating stretch of history in Germany and other areas of Europe.
- Lauren Williams
A visit to the Holocaust Museum
Today our group started our day on a much more somber note with a visit to the Holocaust Museum. This museum walks visitors through the horrific progression of the Holocaust; beginning with Adolf Hitler taking hold of the government and ending with the liberation of the concentration camps and the end of World War II. The museum is truly incredible and highlights the extremes of humanity. You can feel the presence of everyone affected by this event. The faces in the photographs are haunting; in some it is agony, in others it is the power of their evil actions. It is eerie to walk through bunkers and train cars which were used to transport the prisoners to death camps, or smell the leather of the hundreds of shoes taken from them upon arrival, or listen to a first-hand account of survival. Overall, the experience is extremely worthwhile.
Naturally, we all had extensive education in the area of the Holocaust during our middle and high school years but coming back to it as a collegiate student definitely gave a different perspective on the event. During our younger years, the majority of the education focused on the persecution and deaths of thousands of innocent people followed by the heroic actions of the United States Army. This time we could understand the progression of the oppression and relate it to events that we see daily. One of the more important and chilling area of Hitler’s reign was the massive amounts of propaganda he used to convince an entire country of people that another culture of their population was evil and needed to be eliminated. These were not radical or blatantly threatening messages but rather, simple messages which targeted highly impressionable groups like children and teens.
This made me curious as to which messages influenced my youth and how if I had grown up during a different time or in a less free country, how radically different my life could be. I found many parallels between the Holocaust Museum and the Newseum we visited yesterday. The Newseum advocated the importance of our freedoms protected by the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition. Hitler violated each of these freedoms throughout his rampage. By controlling the media, he was able to nearly destroy an entire group of people. In order to protect future generations from experiencing the same types of genocide, it is important that education of these fundamental liberties remain a high priority so that no single person can manipulate an entire group of people.
Today may have been one of the most emotionally charged days we experienced on the trip but it was educational to all of us and opened our awareness to the connections between media propaganda and tyranny.
-Molly Anderson, senior, economics
Day 2 of ULDC
The last time I visited the Newseum I was a recent high school graduate who had dreams of a journalism career. The amazing experiences and people the museum focused on were right up my alley. I could see myself in their work and hopefully one day in their museum. Two years later I no longer dream of my name as a byline. I was afraid that the museum wouldn’t rattle me to my core as it had before.
Twenty feet inside the door, this morning, my worry was laid to rest. The exhibits had the same haunting power they did the first visit. The overwhelming struggle for the freedom we are granted through the First Amendment is as evident as the powerful words written on the Berlin Wall. Walking towards the wall of journalists who died following the story reminds us all that there are heroes without uniforms. In a world where we demand information from every corner of the globe, they are the ones who deliver it home. They open our eyes and make us aware. Their words and images are responsible for our reactions to events. On the third floor of the museum is a wall with a small window in it. Behind the glass is a charred camera and seared press credentials. Surrounding these items are images that are burnt into our brains of the day we will never forget. We have those images because a man saw smoke and ran towards it with the firefighters and the police officers. But he was armed with no training or gas mask, just a now charred camera and several rolls of film. America can now see the last things he saw. The terror and anguish that tore through the country are captured in his last shots, his last minutes. It is because of these images that the twisted satellite tower that can be seen behind his wall of photos is gut wrenching. We see the dust that has hardened on the metal and remember the dust that poured down on the citizens of New York.
Those images and the words that surrounded them on newspapers and websites will last longer than the dust or the smoke or even the moments of silence on the anniversary. Our children will learn about this event just like we learn about the assassination of JFK or MLK, through the images and the words that were written when it happened. That’s why this museum is so important. These walls and everything they contain remind us why we must fight to protect the First Amendment and the people who uphold it every day.
-Olivia McMillen, sophomore, marketing
Remembering America's Past and Remembering Your Past
For those of you who have never been to the Newseum in Washington DC, you should seriously consider going. The six floor museum contains news from various sources, such as TV, radio, newspapers, etc., going back to the 1400s. There is a room that contains old newspapers with some of the most significant events in history. For example, I saw a paper today that had the death of Princess Diana and another paper that had the start of the Revolutionary War... in the same room. This is all about our country's history, which I have now seen in multiple Smithsonian museums and the Capitol, but at the Newseum I saw MY history.
The most memorable part from my visits to the Newseum (this was my second time) has always been the 9/11 exhibit. The exhibit has the front page of newspapers across the country hanging from one wall and the antenna from the top of one of the World Trade Center buildings. Those aren't what makes it memorable though. The memorable part is a video about 10 minutes long that has interviews with reporters who were at Ground Zero after the attacks and footage that was shown on news stations across the country. Every time I start to cry. Seeing the footage, hearing their stories, knowing that these people saw a tragedy that changed, not only mine but all of American's lives forever, is a moving experience. You'd have to watch it to understand the impact of it.
The thing that really struck me today happened because a group of middle schoolers watched the video with me. They didn't cry, they didn't stay silent during the film, and a few even walked out before it was over. They didn't get it. This tragedy happened to me. I can still tell you about how I found out in Mrs. Schaflein's class, 4th grade, when my principal walked into the room informing us only the 4th and 5th graders were being told what was going on and that something terrible had happened in our country. I remember watching the news the rest of the day as a few of my classmates were frantically calling their families to check on loved ones in New York or by the Pentagon. That will always stick with me. That is MY history. It is an event that defines my generation and will always have an impact on my life. Soon I will be one of only a select group who remember that day, just like the recent deaths of the World War veterans, one day the people who were there won't be able to tell their stories.
If there is anything I have learned today it is this; ever person has experienced something in their lives that is part of their history, now you just have to make sure you don't forget it because someday it may be in a museum as part of America's history.
Washington DC is a city filled to the brim with culture, history, and politics. It seems I stumble upon another piece of U.S. history with every corner I turn. Thus far I have visited the Smithsonian museums, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Newseum, the Capitol Building and a few others. The best experience I have had thus far was the “monument walk”. I enjoyed catching a glimpse of the way our nation’s leaders led our country through quotes and facts.
One word that can be used to describe this trip is "exploration." I feel like I have had many opportunities to seek out information that I wanted each day. I am fascinated with the growth and expansion of democracy and how the U.S. came to the place where it is today. From our beginnings in colonization, to our separation during the Revolutionary War, the “American spirit” drove our leaders to seek out the opportunity to start anew with a country that embraced liberty and basic human rights. Today we are still trying to improve upon this county’s founding ideology; issues such as civil rights are ever present.
The experience I had at the Newseum was very memorable as well. Both the 9-11 and Katrina exhibits were emotional. It is events such as those that remind us just how fragile our great nation is even in the 21st century. The Newseum showcased history through the voice of the media which was an interesting perspective in contrast to the “textbook” method of the Smithsonian museums.
The United States Botanical Garden was also an interesting site. The giant greenhouse displayed plants and simulated the climates of all ecosystems in the US. Lush greenery filled each room and the smell of exotic flowers permeated the air. Turns out plant diversity is something our country is not lacking.
-Caleb Piper, junior, chemical engineering
How to Take a Left in a Round Building
Today was our first full day in Washington D.C. It was rather eventful; we started out the morning leaving one person in the subway terminal. However, he quickly met up with us on the next train. After finally surviving most of our first metro experiences, we made our way to the Smithsonian Institute. The students divided into small groups, who individually viewed the museums of their choice. The day included ruby slippers, first lady gowns, intriguing art and security guard reprimands. Allison, Caleb, Carrie and I first made our way to the Museum of Natural History, where the girls picked out their future engagement rings and accessories. Next we made our way downstairs to see a variety of stuffed animals, including a moose I later posed with for a picture that won me a free lunch courtesy of Gerome Stephens. We stumbled onto the National Gallery of Art and viewed numerous showcases of American, Italian, and French works. After viewing interesting art at the circular-shaped Museum of Modern Art, we attempted to exit the building. However, I must say we found it difficult to exit through security guard instructions to take a left at the end of the hall, considering there were no turns to be made or ends to be had in a round building. Eventually we succeeded in finding an exit and made a quick trip to the Air & Space and American History Museums.
Several hours of museum-looking made ten college students very hungry. After a restful and tasty lunch at Qdoba, the group commenced on our tour of Washington D.C.’s monuments and memorials (& museums, oh my!). The afternoon included stops at the Washington Monument, Albert Einstein Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean Memorial, FDR Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and a sneak-peek of the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. A claustrophobic subway transit and taxi ride got us back to the motel, where we regrouped before a dinner and a night out in Georgetown.
The night concluded with a van ride back to Arlington and a meaningful discussion of the day’s events and their relation to current social, political, and cultural issues. A good night’s rest will have us more than ready to enjoy another wonderful day in our nation’s capital.
-Elizabeth Delaney, freshman & Carrie Mattingly, freshman, Political Science