Immi­gra­tion is a topic of national sig­nif­i­cance. It’s also piqued the interest of a group of stu­dents in Northeastern’s Uni­ver­sity Scholars Pro­gram, a melting pot of 11 cul­tur­ally and aca­d­e­m­i­cally diverse humanitarians.

In lieu of a vaca­tion, they will be spending spring break in San Juan, Texas, vol­un­teering at a com­mu­nity union called LUPE. Founded by labor rights activist César Chávez in 1989, LUPE works to orga­nize fam­i­lies living in rural sub­di­vi­sions along the Texas-​​Mexico border, helping them fight depor­ta­tions and effect pos­i­tive social change in their poverty-​​stricken community.

We wanted to vol­un­teer with an orga­ni­za­tion that gives a voice to the voice­less,” said team leader Ken­neth Bar­ragan, SSH’18. “Since this is a com­mu­nity with a heavy pop­u­la­tion of immi­grants and low-​​income fam­i­lies, we feel that it will give us a first-​​hand look at the hard­ships facing people living on the border.”

The ser­vice trip to Texas is one of 18 Alter­na­tive Spring Break pro­grams that have been orga­nized by the Center of Com­mu­nity Ser­vice. From March 5 to 12, more than 180 stu­dents will work to address a range of crit­ical issues, cov­ering every­thing from HIV/​AIDS to food lit­eracy. They will be vol­un­teeering in 11 states and five coun­tries, from Utah, Ver­mont, and Col­orado to Belize, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic.

Bar­ragan and his peers will be con­ducting needs assess­ment sur­veys of colonia res­i­dents, refur­bishing housing units, and pro­viding care to the elderly.

My hope for this trip is that we will see and learn more about how issues of inequality and power affect migrants,” said assis­tant pro­fessor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies Sarah Jackson, the trip’s fac­ulty rep­re­sen­ta­tive. “At the same time, I expect we will also get to see the incred­ible resilience of people fighting for their rights and the value of solu­tions that come from those with first-​​hand expe­ri­ence doing so.”

For many of the stu­dents, the topic of immi­gra­tion is per­son­ally rel­e­vant. Barragan’s father emi­grated from Colombia and worked as an immi­gra­tion officer at Miami Inter­na­tional Air­port. The other team leader, Danielle Murad, SSH’19, grew up in Mexico City and then came to the U.S. for col­lege. A third stu­dent hails from Romania, a fourth from the Philippines.

There’s a little bit of every­thing,” Murad said, adding that the group’s cul­tural diver­sity is matched by its aca­d­emic diver­sity, with majors in math, Eng­lish, his­tory, biology, engi­neering, inter­na­tional affairs, and polit­ical sci­ence. “It will be very inter­esting to see what everyone brings to the discussion.”

At the end of each day of the week­long ser­vice trip, the stu­dents will con­vene to reflect on their expe­ri­ences. They will share what they have learned, drawing directly from their con­ver­sa­tions with those who live in the colo­nias, where unem­ploy­ment rates are high and inad­e­quate access to clean water is the norm.

Murad noted that her goal is to expand her under­standing of immi­gra­tion, with a par­tic­ular focus on the day-​​to-​​day issues facing LUPE’s San Juan com­mu­nity. “It’s easy to pick a side and form opin­ions without knowing the issue fully,” she explained. “I’m going to go in like a sponge, soak every­thing up, and then use what I learn to start con­ver­sa­tions with my peers.”

Barragan’s pri­mary objec­tive is to make a pos­i­tive impact on the lives of the people he will be serving. As he put it, “I want to do good, to help people live up to their dreams.”