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Poverty, Homelessness at Center of Student-Faculty Experience in D.C.

CONWAY, Ark. (July 7, 2017) – The day after Commencement 2017, five current Hendrix students and five of the College’s most recent graduates began a service-learning trip to Washington, D.C. Sponsored by the Miller Center for Vocation, Ethics, and Calling, the week-long trip included hands-on work serving those experiencing poverty or homelessness, as well as learning how to carry out political advocacy for those in need.

New graduates Caitlyn Hendrickson ’17, Marie Kressin ’17, Ian McVinney ’17, Dimple Shah ’17, and Guneev Sharma ’17, and students Megan Bellfield ’20, Caitlin Camper ’19, Clay Johnston ’20, Sai Techawongtham ’19, and Shane Warga ’19 joined Dr. Robert Williamson, associate professor of Religious Studies and director of the Miller Center; Dr. Josh Glick, assistant professor of Film Studies and English; and Dr. Giffen Maupin, assistant professor of English for the journey.

The trip was hosted by The Pilgrimage, a nonprofit agency affiliated with The Church of the Pilgrims, a Presbyterian (PCUSA) congregation located near DuPont Circle. From that home base, participants’ experiential learning centered on urban poverty and homelessness, including:

  • An orientation session with the National Coalition for the Homeless, with individuals describing their experiences of being homeless and trying to pull themselves out of homelessness
  • A walking tour of D.C. with a community organizer who led discussion on gentrification and displacement
  • Work at sites arranged by The Pilgrimage: A Wider Circle, a nonprofit that collects used furniture and redistributes it to people in low-income housing; DC Central Kitchen, a nonprofit that prepares meals for people who are homeless; Seabury Age-In-Place, a nonprofit that supports senior citizens so they can remain in their homes; Charlie’s Place, a breakfast ministry and clothing closet for people who are homeless; and Thrive DC, a nonprofit agency that provides breakfast, take-away meals, and other services for people who are homeless
  • Meeting with the Religious Action Center, a Jewish advocacy group focused on policy issues
  • Visits to the offices of Sen. Tom Cotton, Sen. John Boozman, and Rep. French Hill to discuss refugee resettlement and other issues with staff members. In addition, Hill was available for a brief introduction to the group.

Service-learning trips often prompt students to examine their values, commitments, gifts, and limitations.

“I learned how deep the concept of social hierarchy is ingrained in me,” said Sai Techawongtham ’19 of her experience on the D.C. trip. “Even when I constantly remind myself of the Miller Center’s concept of equality, it is still extremely difficult to get rid of the view that I’m a luckier and more well-off person going out to help people who are at a lower social or economic status than me.”

Techawongtham added that the trip helped her gain greater awareness of her outlook and behaviors, and the power to change them.

“For example, if I met someone who might seem to have come from a lower economic status, I would remind myself: How would you treat this person if she or he were someone from a very high status?” she said. “If my answer is different from the way I’m about to treat that person in reality, I would adjust my view and try to treat the person the same way I imagine myself treating someone from a high status.”

Amid learning how to work toward a just society in their own communities, the students, new alumni, and professors spent time building community with each other, and also had the opportunity to visit several D.C. monuments, the Smithsonian, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and other sites in the nation’s capital.

About Hendrix College

Hendrix College is a private liberal arts college in Conway, Arkansas. Founded in 1876 and affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884, Hendrix is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think about Colleges and is nationally recognized in numerous college guides, lists, and rankings for academic quality, community, innovation, and value. For more information, visit