Students Explore the Best of the West


Thomas Meinzen

Eleanor Matson, Staff Reporter

Semester in the West returned to campus last week to give their trip’s traditional Western Epiphanies. Western Epiphanies is not only  their final, but a chance for the public to know what they have been doing for an entire semester. This year’s students focused largely on the new portions of their trip.

This year’s Semester in the West went a little beyond most previous trips. Twenty percent of most Semester in the West trips consist of new locations, but this year they covered over 11,000 miles going farther north, east, and south than ever before. They added two new states, South Dakota and Texas, and they also added an extra week to their journey.

The program director Phil Brick, professor of Politics and Environmental Studies said this was because he wanted to include more indigenous voices.

“I wanted to introduce more Native American perspectives into the program. We had the opportunity to get to know someone who has good Lakota contacts out on the Pine Ridge reservation. Just taking advantage of that opportunity was really important to me,” Brick said.

Brick elaborated on the reception of the new additions by describing the students’ positive reactions.

“I think as you saw at the Epiphanies segment … people really responded to the Rio Grande segment, the Lakota segment certainly found its way in and also the Methow segment. The students really found resonance there for their writing which I thought was really powerful. I would certainly be happy to do any one of those again,” Brick said.

The Technical Manager and Semester in the West alumni, Collin Smith, was in agreement about the positive reaction to the new additions to the trip.  He believed that this year the trip explored more of the West’s history.

Contributed photo by Thomas Meinzen.

“This trip was superlative just because of the ground we covered. Just on the surface [the new locations and extra week] were a huge change. We got to do some really interesting things. We got to do a lot more with indigenous issues this year,” Smith said.  “We definitely got a broader sense of the history of the west. I think usually the program doesn’t talk that much about the history except maybe in a political sense. They really got to hear history from a Native American perspective which was cool.”

This trip may also be the last Semester in the West group to visit a location they visited since the trip’s conception in 2002: Comb Ridge, Utah. Their campsite which was on public lands was put up for auction this year and was sold to private corporation just after they visited. However, it is unclear as to whether or not the program will be allowed to revisit.

On the topic of the Comb Ridge’s action, Smith expressed his sadness to see the place sold, citing it as the spiritual center of the trip.

Contributed photo by Thomas Meinzen.

“It is really heartbreaking because it is truly the spiritual center of the program. Semester in the West has been going there since 2002,” Smith said. “There is a lot of emotion tied up in the place—it is where the Westies do a writing workshop, so a lot of what they do up there is just kind of wander around and explore it with [their] senses. It is hard to see a place that really ties the Semester in the West students together go away.”

Sophomore and trip member Willa Johnson found that not only was it sad to see Comb Ridge sold, but also striking to watch a piece of public land privatized as public lands is a central theme of the trip.

“In terms of talking about public lands all semester to seeing a very tangible public land be turned into private land was pretty crazy,” Johnson said.

However, overall Johnson found the trip to be an amazing opportunity to learn outside of a traditional classroom.

Contributed photo by Thomas Meinzen.

“It is an amazing opportunity to be outside for a whole semester and to build a strong community, while getting to see a lot of people and learn more than you could possibly learn during one semester on campus. It is a concentrated experiential learning that is really amazing,” Johnson said.