A Reading Week Trip to Michigan State University

by | Oct 25, 2023 | Communities, Policy Connections for Canada, Publics and Social Justice

Laurier students pose by a mural in Flint, Michigan during a city tour, part of their visit to Michigan State University’s East Lansing and Flint campuses. The mural depicts (from left) the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, James Forman, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Jesse Douglas Sr. and John Lewis marching in Montomery, Alabama in 1965.

The Laurier Centre for the Study of Canada, the North American Studies Program, the Department of Sociology, and Laurier International coordinated a fall reading week overnight exchange for Laurier students to visit Michigan State University campuses in East Lansing and Flint. This travel opportunity was generously funded through a Federal Assistance Award provided by the United States Department of State, coordinated by the US Consulate in Toronto. Rebekah Krofchick, one of the Laurier students who travelled to Michigan, reflects on her experience.

OVER READING BREAK, several Laurier students, staff and faculty visited Michigan State University at the invitation of Rebecca Malouin and the MSU Canadian Studies Center. The group travelled to East Lansing, Michigan where we were privileged to tour the main MSU campus, sit in on a lecture, speak with students and faculty, and even attend a performance by the school’s concert band. Following an overnight stay in the Kellogg Centre on campus, we travelled to Flint, Michigan, where our group spoke with members of MSU Flint’s Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health faculty and community members behind crucial public health initiatives in Flint. We concluded our trip with a bus tour of Flint before returning to Waterloo.

During our MSU visit, many of my fellow students expressed awe at the sheer size and scale of the campus. Spanning 5,200 acres and comprised of more than 500 buildings, most of us had never seen such an extensive campus. Throughout our tour, we walked through botanical gardens, across several bridges, and yet still remained in the same general campus area. We also toured the institution’s dairy factory and art museum, two things I did not expect to encounter on a university campus. Our conversations with students and faculty highlighted the importance of sports for the American university experience. We spoke to students who camped in a field overnight to get prime seats for a basketball game. The overall school spirit we felt walking through the campus was palpable, as most students wore MSU apparel or accessories; it was a level of campus pride most of us haven’t experienced in Canada. It was fascinating for many of us to experience a university campus as substantial as Michigan State. We were just amazed by everything we encountered.

As we left East Lansing and entered Flint, the tone of the trip changed, and the purpose of the journey became quite meaningful for many participants. We conversed with numerous public health professionals and community activists who explained the challenges faced by Flint residents. Due to the area’s history, including the Flint water crisis, speakers highlighted the need for public officials to rebuild trust with the wider community. MSU Flint faculty and community members have worked together tirelessly to create programs and initiatives for Flint residents, for example vouchers for children to have access to fresh produce and the Flint  Registry, which connects people impacted by the water crisis with programs and services that promote health and wellness. While very heartbreaking, the presentations we heard in Flint always ended with a light at the end of the tunnel: community members fighting for a better tomorrow.

We then toured the city of Flint, beginning in the city center before moving into residential areas. The juxtaposition of the active city center with the residential homes and schools that remain in disrepair was challenging for many group members. But even throughout these neighbourhoods, murals and community gardens provided an inspiring message: the tenacity of Flint residents. Many community members expressed disdain for the idea that they were resilient, which implies bouncing back after some hardship. However, being tenacious has an active connotation of the strength to resist opposition. We witnessed firsthand the tenacity of Flint’s citizens, who have confronted long-standing oppressions, finding the strength to fight back and regain their power. Though it was a challenge to see distressed neighbourhoods, I think it was very inspiring and essential for each of us to listen to both the trauma experienced in Flint and the work continuously done to rectify it. This conclusion to the trip was incredibly meaningful and was essential for our understanding of issues than transcend borders.

“The conversations we had in Flint were very eye opening, highlighting the tenacious nature of the city. It was interesting to see the beautiful MSU campus compared to the reality of Flint.” – Aliyah Verhoef (fourth year Laurier student)

Ultimately, we experienced both an awe-inspiring version of Michigan at MSU in East Lansing, and the socio-economic realities confronting Americans daily in Flint. Learning about and discussing political and community issues and initiatives was an inspiring end to a trip aimed at educating participants on American society.

Engaging in this cross-border academic experience allowed students to experience firsthand the differences between American and Canadian university campuses. Additionally, it allowed students to interrogate the concepts and issues many of us have studied throughout our post-secondary education.