MPSA member Emily Farris is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth, TX where she and a colleague run an interdisciplinary civil rights course and an annual Spring Break bus tour called the Justice Journey. Here we ask her a few questions about her experience and perspective:
Q: What prompted the Justice Journey series overall and how did the new Latino/a Civil Rights Struggle Justice Journey come about?
A: Beginning in 2011, Professor Max Krochmal in partnership with the Office of Community Engagement and partners in Inclusiveness & Intercultural Services developed a social justice-oriented educational tour. The TCU Justice Journey annually brings 20 students to places throughout the South important to the civil rights movements. When I joined TCU, I became involved with the Tour, and we paired the tour with for a credit course, cross-listed between History and Political Science. And in Spring 2017, the Justice Journey was expanded to alternate focus in different years between the African American civil rights movement and the Chicano/a civil rights movement and immigrant rights.
We believe the new addition of the tour and class focused on the Chicano/a Movement and immigrant rights is one of the first of its kind – while many groups and schools across the U.S. take trips through the south to explore the African American civil rights movement, few (if any) do a similar Latino civil rights tour in south Texas. This past Spring, the tour focused on South Texas, with stops in Austin, San Antonio, Crystal City and McAllen. Students had the opportunity to interact with and learn from the local organizers who built the civil rights movement on the ground as well as activists and politicians in present-day campaigns for justice.
Q: With involvement from multiple partners, how was the content and the (literal) course of the trip determined?
A: The course is a collaborative effort every year. We meet regularly throughout the year to plan the trip and the course, with each year being different from the next. For instance, in 2015, we planned the trip around the historic 50th anniversary march in Selma, with additional stops in Jackson, Birmingham, and Nashville. Last year was the first trip focused on the Chicano/a Movement, which developed out of our shared research interests of Latino/a history and politics. This upcoming year will likely center around Memphis, given the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death.
Q: What makes the content of these trips different than regular historical tours?
A: Although the trip includes visits to historic sites and museums, it goes far beyond ordinary heritage tourism. The trip features panel discussions with grassroots movement activists, critical conversations and reflection sessions on race and racism (and other forms of oppression), introductory lessons on community organizing and the origins of social movements, and –most importantly– training in and examples of group-centered or collective leadership models. A pilgrimage to hallowed locales in American history and a classroom on wheels, the Civil Rights Bus Tour allows students to learn from the past in order to change the future.
Q: What kind of grants/funding supports the project and/or the students?
A: The trip is run at no cost to the students – it is fully funded through Student Affairs and AddRan college through the Political Science and History departments. It is also part of the newest major and minor on campus in Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies.
Q: How are students selected for the program?
A: Students apply in mid-Fall and are selected based on their interest in the material.
Q: What materials do you assign for study prior to the trip? How do you involve the local community and/or the affected community in your course?
A: Back in the classroom, the associated courses survey the history of the modern African American and Chicano/a civil and immigration rights movement and explore modern day politics and policy as ways to understand the nature of social movements and the role of grassroots activism in the struggle for social justice, past and present in the United States. Prior to the trip, we focus mostly on the history of the movements, and after the trip we try to engage that history with modern day efforts in the struggle for social justice. In addition to traditional assignments, students complete work and research that engages them in the community. In Spring 2017, students organized a panel discussion with local community members about their Justice Journey trip, registered voters and participated in get out the vote activities in historically underrepresented areas throughout the community, and researched community engaged projects on modern day social justice issues.
Q: How did you personally get involved in this project?
A: I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and yet, if it wasn’t for my 8th grade English teacher who dared to go off the curriculum and teach us about the Civil Rights Movement, I may have never learned the history of my own city. Since then, I’ve always been fascinated by local communities’ histories and politics and have been driven by the desire to make politics a more inclusive place. When I came to TCU and became friends with Max, I was invited to join the project, given our overlapping teaching and research interests.
Q: Who has had the greatest influence on your research and/or career?
A: My mother was a local journalist and involved in local politics when I was growing up. She served as an example on how a regular citizen could work to make our community a better, more just place – if it wasn’t for her, I might have ended up a lawyer.
This post is part of a series of interviews with our members. Read more MPSA Member profiles.