The day before 70 students were set to head out on their Alternative Fall Breaks, they received a notice that the trips were canceled.
The Volunteer Emory-led service trips were canceled this year after organization leaders failed to secure vehicles to transport students to the sites of their volunteer projects, according to Senior Director of Civic and Community Engagement James Roland.
Alternative Breaks are student-run service trips that occur during fall and spring breaks and are intended to “create meaningful student development experiences” while meeting “needs identified by various agency partners,” according to the Volunteer Emory (VE) website.
Roland declined to state who was responsible for booking the vans or whether a reservation had been made with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the preferred rental agency vendor at Emory.
VE Advisor and Assistant Director for Community Engagement and Coordinator of Alternative Breaks Courtney Jones-Stevens and VE Director of Alternative Breaks Phuong Tran (18C) declined to provide comment about the cancellation of the trips, citing heavy workloads. Both redirected the Wheel to Roland.
When the Wheel asked Roland if Emory had made van reservations, he declined to provide a “yes” or “no” answer, but he said that Emory had communicated with Enterprise.
A total of seven trips had been planned to improve issues of children’s health, environmental justice, homelessness, food insecurity and health inequities, but all were canceled due to “complications with renting vans,” according to the Oct. 6 email sent to participants from Jones-Stevens and Tran.
When asked when the organization discovered the error, Roland told the Wheel that he was “not in the place to talk about that” because the information was part of “internal communications.”
Roland later clarified that his use of the word “internal” referred to the Emory community as a whole but still declined to provide the information.
Once the Center for Civic and Community Engagement was made aware of the issue, it “made several attempts to secure other transportation options that would meet university standards, but to no avail,” Roland said.
Although the office explored the option of renting vehicles through other rental companies, Enterprise and Emory have insurance contracts that prohibit Emory from using another rental company, Roland said.
Students “had a range of emotions” about the cancellation, according to Roland. Students could either receive a full refund of $75 or apply the money toward an Alternative Spring Break trip, Roland said. As of Oct. 16, seven of 70 students chose to apply the money toward another trip.
“I think, by and large, I’ve been impressed with the students being able to understand that when we have adversity and challenges, that we try to resolve them the best way we can,” Roland said. “I think what they saw from our office was an attempt to resolve it the best we could under the circumstances. I’m sure you could find outliers, if you look hard enough, you will find some students that are really really upset, but there also students who appreciated the way it was handled.”
Roland said that he is reviewing various processes to ensure that such errors do not happen in the future. He plans to enlist other people to assist with the review, and said that although there are not specific policies to adjust at the moment “everything is open for review.”
Nicholette Brandford (21C) signed up for the environmental justice trip with hopes of spending her fall break engaging in an issue about which she feels passionate.
“I was really disappointed because this was going to be something exciting for me … I chose to stay on campus and not go home because I thought I could do [the trip],” Brandford said. She ultimately spent her break on campus and “just got ahead of some work, caught up on sleep and watched Netflix.”
Brandford said that she requested and received a full refund.
“I found that it was pretty disorganized that they hadn’t figured out their transportation in advance,” Brandford added.
Amy Huang (20C), a co-leader for the homelessness trip, also expressed disappointment that the trip was canceled. She said that she hopes to lead an Alternative Break in the future and complete the trip she had planned for this fall.
Huang said that she devoted significant time and effort to preparation for the trip.
“[I] put on a fundraising night, … contacted community partners, booked them, found housing, made a schedule, kept track of participant information and planned a full itinerary,” Huang said.
Huang said that she decided to return home for fall break.
Although Huang said she would not be deterred from leading a trip in the future, she said she understood that this error was a “pretty big slip through the cracks” that might justifiably “impact freshmen and their decisions to go on [alternative] breaks in the future.”
Richard Chess contributed reporting.
Correction (10/18/17 at 2:15 a.m.): The article was updated to clarify that Roland said Emory had communicated with Enterprise.