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Breakout: More than short-term community service

Although community service is often associated with direct volunteer-based service, Breakout Princeton is a Pace Center for Civic Engagement program offering an alternative break that allows students to engage in issues through service learning, a hybrid of community service and learning from policy stakeholders. Breakout owes its name to the fact that the trips occur during fall and spring break. The service learning aspect comes in when students learn about domestic social issues. Rather than completing a service project during the week, students meet policymakers, community organizations and those directly affected by the focus issue of the specific trip.


“Breakout has a service component,” Breakout Student Executive Board co-chair Nick Sexton ’17 said, “but that’s not the crux of what a Breakout trip is.”

According to Sexton, although students on a Breakout trip will participate in at least one activity involving direct service, the program focuses more on meeting with a variety of stakeholders to give students a comprehensive view of a given issue.

“It’s a service learning trip,” said Ada Rauch ’17, the other co-chair of the Breakout Student Executive Board. “It’s not to go somewhere, carry out a project, and then be done. It’s to go somewhere and learn about it and then come back to campus, bringing your experience back in a way that you can share it, but also use it.”

Sexton added that part of Breakout’s model is the belief that greater change can be brought about if students gain a deeper understanding of an issue by looking at systemic structural problems.

According to Rauch, there is an average of five Breakout trips per semester, with around a dozen students on each trip. All trips are student-proposed, student-led and student-approved by the board. Any student can propose a trip to lead. Trips are chosen to offer a wide variety of topics; location and prior leadership experience can also play a role in which trips are selected.

“We also think a lot about the way in which the trips are framed in their proposals,” Sexton said. He added that Breakout trips are approved if the leaders demonstrate humility and a realistic idea of what their trip will be like.


Sexton and Rauch co-led a Breakout trip their freshman spring, focusing on the intersections between socioeconomic status and HIV in New York City. The pair met with a multitude of public health organizations as well as organizations that specifically served those living with HIV. Sexton explained that they met with diverse organizations so that they were not only meeting with policymakers, but also staying attached to the community directly affected by the policies, which gave them a more balanced view about the way the issue was playing out.

The Breakout trips are mostly concentrated in the Northeast region of the United States — for instance, New York, Philadelphia and the local Trenton area — but there are trips that travel to the far reaches of the country. According to the Pace Center website, this semester, a trip titled “Where do we go from here?: Community Organizing in the Wake of Crisis” is going to Ferguson, Mo., while another trip called “Contested Resources: Nonferrous Mining in Minnesota’s Iron Range” is traveling to northeast Minnesota.

“The reason that they’re going to these specific places is because their topic needs to be explored in that place,” Rauch said.

The trip to Ferguson would not work in another area closer to Princeton, so the location is necessary to the topic of the trip, Sexton added.

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“In the past, there were fewer Breakout trips in total, so a larger portion of the trips were going far away," Sexton said. “I also think that part of the reason why there’s a lot of trips that stay in the northeastern part of the country is also a philosophical decision.”

Sexton went on to explain how part of Breakout’s philosophy is to learn about issues in which Princeton students may be able to effect positive change.

“Being students in this area, we probably have a larger obligation to do something in Trenton, than say, another urban area with similar issues in another part of the country.” Sexton said. “We are uniquely positioned as Princeton students to tackle the roots of those issues.”