CINCINNATI -- Sophie Brown, Hannah Lodin and a group of their Xavier University classmates traded sun and sand for snow and cold over their spring break, and they don't regret it.
The group took an "Alternative Spring Break" and decided to spend their time on a charity project instead of a vacation. They drove eight hours to Farm Sanctuary, a New York-based group that rescues and rehabilitates animals from factory farms, and learned to care for the creatures there.
"Every day, we'd go out and hang out with the animals," junior Samantha Maizland said. "I miss ending my day like that."
Those animals included hundreds of cattle, pigs, chickens, turkey, goats, rabbits and even alpacas.
Maizland added the experience made her want to reconsider eating meat, at least for a while. Most of her groupmates were already vegans or vegetarians when they set out on the trip, and trip leader Lodin said she hoped interacting with the animals would give them more incentive to make decisions with animal welfare in mind.
"It's really easy to feel compassionate about cats and dogs and our pets," she said. "It's not so easy to put yourself in the place of an animal you've maybe never interacted with before. Getting the opportunity to hear these animals' stories … made us think that all animals are not so different from the ones we cherish already as pets."
Although not every member of the trip might choose to change their diet forever, Maizland said she would definitely think more about the way her actions affect the planet and the living things with which she shares it.
"(I want to) just start thinking about every decision I make," she said. "We were talking about how it's not necessary to use a straw every time you go out to eat. Just slowly cutting back, and it'll have a positive effect."
Xavier students interested in other issues, including homelessness, elder rights, disability, human trafficking and refugee resettlement participate in other trips across the United States and South America every spring and fall break. Anyone interested in learning more can do so online.