Keeping Traditions Alive: Immersion Program Switches to Virtual Format

Kelly Gallagher ‘22


For over 40 years, the Spring Break Immersion Program has been a staple of many students’ experiences at the College of the Holy Cross. This year, in response to the ongoing pandemic, the program is switching gears in order to keep the meaningful tradition alive. The program, which the Chaplains’ Office will run this year as the Socially Distanced Immersion Program, will occur virtually during Winter Break, from January 11-14, 2021.

SBIP Co-Chairs Alex Nazzaro, Paulina Martin, and Evan Realbuto (all Class of 2021) have been planning the program since the summer, along with Emily Rauer Davis, Director of Domestic Immersion. The program typically takes an entire year to plan, so the team had to take decisive steps long before they knew what kind of academic year to expect. They reached out to the usual SBIP sites, many of which were eager to host this year’s program virtually. 

In addition to adapting many of the usual programs, the Co-Chairs even established a few new ones. As Alex explained in an interview with The Spire, “We started off with three social justice issues. Each of the Co-Chairs took one and it was their job to figure out some sites that would fit into these social justice areas, although we quickly realized that they’re all so interconnected and none of them fall neatly into these sites…. I was in charge of environmental justice, and I actually found a few sites we hadn’t worked with before through Google and through reaching out to the Sustainability Director on campus.” 

Paulina even put together an entire Worcester immersion site by reaching out to different people in the community and booking speakers. In an email exchange with The Spire, she wrote, “I am excited particularly about the Worcester site. A lot of students seem to be feeling disconnected from the city, especially people who don’t live near campus; it’ll be a great chance to get to know the place Holy Cross calls home.”

Image courtesy of the Chaplains’ Office.

Student participation will certainly look different this year, but the program is working hard to provide a group experience similar to the usual trips. Students will spend 2-4 hours a day listening to talks and participating in conversation with their team members. At the end of the day, groups will reconvene to reflect on the day’s experiences. The program will also promote team-building opportunities before the program begins in January. 

Team leaders will be assigned their sites this week, with two leaders per site. The Co-Chairs expressed their excitement to begin involving a bigger group of people in the program’s progress. Though the Co-Chairs have dealt with their disappointment over not having a normal leadership experience, all three Co-Chairs made it clear their journey has not been without its rewards. Evan told The Spire, “I’m really proud of the work we’ve been doing, because we had no idea a few months ago what we would end up doing and how it would look. We didn’t know if we’d have a spring break or not, so we’ve had to play with the different cards we’ve been given and be creative and come up with our whole new program based on our old program. We’ve worked to intertwine some of the key themes we usually focus on with our program, but also be creative with Zoom and work to engage with our different communities in different ways. It’s really cool to see how it’s moving together as we get closer to January.”

One of those key themes is racial justice, which has received increased national attention this year. Paulina shared how the national movement has influenced the Immersion program’s plans this year: “The SBIP team is really cognizant of what is going on in the world and in our Holy Cross home. Some of our sites, like Louisville and Chicago, lend themselves to conversations about racial justice and we are encouraging participants to engage with that material. We have been in conversation with OME to train our leaders to be good facilitators for these really important discussions. We heard the concerns of students, especially from the @blackatholycross Instagram, and are working hard to make Immersion a place for students to learn and grow, but also a beneficial space for students who already understand much of the struggle of something like racism to connect and heal.”

Students interested in participating in the Socially Distanced Immersion Program must register by Monday, November 9. The application can be accessed here. Reveal Night is scheduled for Sunday, November 15, when students will find out which site they will participate in and meet their group members. This year’s sites include Chicago, Flint, L’Arche (Jacksonville, St Louis, Syracuse, Washington D.C.), Louisville, Wheeling and Worcester.

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