EAU CLAIRE Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – A group of UW Eau Claire students is back after the first civil rights pilgrimage in two years. “It’s absolutely incredible.” 

UW-Eau Claire senior Franchesca Riley was one of 86 people to ride through the south on this year’s civil rights pilgrimage. The group visited 10 cities the past couple weeks, going beyond the textbook to learn about our country’s struggle for civil rights. 

“We’re actually speaking to freedom riders. We’re going to museums to learn about mass incarceration. We’re learning about bloody Sunday, turnaround Tuesday. It’s very much everything.” 

“Students often say it’s life-changing, shape shifting, really transformational. Those are the three sort of characterizations that they give for the trip. And I would say it was that for me personally my very first time and even on the 25th trip I come away recommitted to working for social justice.” 

UW-Eau Claire executive director for diversity and inclusion Jodi Thesing-Ritter leads the trip each year. She says the trip opens students’ eyes to more than the famous civil rights leaders. Teaching them about the thousands of heroes in the fight for justice. 

“This trip allows us to see all of the foot soldiers and their depth of engagement and also to inspire each of us to to our work today absent one single leader. We all can have agency and make change.” 

But for Riley, who went on the trip for a second time this year. The most impactful part isn’t going to a museum or historic site. It’s sharing the experience with people who aren’t like her. 

“You’re sitting there and you’re having discussions with completely different perspectives and I think that’s the most important part because it allows you the chance to have the tough conversations for when you get home.” 

The group also participated in a national institutes of health study. They’re helping the agency learn about at-home COVID-19 tests. Group members would take rapid and PCR tests every two days and send results into the NIH