Barrett, The Honors College received backlash from students after the announcement of a spring break trip to Hawaii, a state with limited resources which hit a record number of COVID-19 case numbers this January with the spread of the Omicron variant.
The trip, scheduled for early March and open to graduating seniors, is a part of Barrett's larger travel program Barrett Explores Class Connections, which annually holds a spring break trip for seniors. This program includes trips for Barrett students to destinations throughout America, all with an emphasis on the importance of student exploration and exposure to different cultures.
However, the trip has received backlash this year after selecting a destination COVID-19 has disproportionately affected, resulting in pushback from the University community and an online petition made by Elise Crawford-Paz Soldán.
Crawford-Paz Soldán, a senior in Barrett studying conservation biology and ecology and art studies, first learned about the trip through an email and was instantly taken aback after seeing the trip's destination, especially given its primarily recreational purpose.
"When I saw the email invitation, I was just kind of in disbelief that such a trip was happening, especially since I feel like I've heard a lot recently on social media and different spaces about the native people of the islands asking tourists to stop coming," she said.
Crawford-Paz Soldán contacted organizers of the trip regarding her concerns, but after receiving a response and meeting with an organizer still felt as though her concerns were not being addressed or taken seriously. She decided to create an online petition to spread the word and show that she was not the only concerned member of the ASU community, using social media to push the petition and advertising through student organizations.
"I felt like I needed to get more people involved for the organizers to realize that this issue isn't just something that one student is thinking about," she said. "It's something that the broader community is aware of and there’s a lot of people that care about it."
At the time of publication, the petition has received over 300 signatures.
Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have experienced disproportionate levels of COVID-19 transmission, hospitalization and death, according to reports by the University of Hawaii. Although travel restrictions to the island have been lifted, many native Hawaiians have expressed discomfort in regular tourist activity resuming amid the continuing pandemic and have urged Americans to cease recreational travel to the island.
Freshman nursing major and Historian of the Hawaii Pacific Islander Club La'amea Harbottle is from O'ahu, Hawaii, and witnessed firsthand the effects COVID had on the island as well as the return of tourism. According to Harbottle, many Hawaiians have a negative stance on recreational travel.
"When it comes to the native Hawaiian opinion — when tourism came back, we started to see a surge of COVID cases, which prevented us from going to the beach, going out, going to restaurants," Harbottle said. "Because of this, Native Hawaiians are very, very rude when it comes to tourism. They're kind of like, 'get off our land, we're clean, we're doing our part, and you guys should leave.'"
After reviewing updated materials and guidelines, Barrett, The Honors College is incorporating an additional meeting with all trip participants to learn about the culture and history of Hawaii, according to a written statement provided to The State Press.
Since the creation of the petition, plans for the trip have not changed. The agenda includes a community service project as well as visits to Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, Iolani Palace and a Hawaiian luau.
All students who wish to attend the trip must follow Hawaii's travel guidelines, and Barrett is requiring attendees to be vaccinated and show proof of a negative COVID test within 24 hours of traveling. Students will also be required to wear masks on transportation and indoors when not in their hotel rooms.
According to an update to the petition by Crawford-Paz Soldán on Feb. 1, she met with trip organizer Ashley Brand on Zoom to discuss her concerns, and Brand told her she welcomed feedback from students.
"At this time, we believe that the trip meets the guidelines set forth by the state of Hawaii and it is intentionally designed to include educational components about the complicated history of Hawaii," a written statement from Barrett, The Honors College said. "Our own research has indicated that the situation has evolved over the last couple of years, and, with proper precautions, we can respectfully and responsibly travel to Hawaii."
Despite Barrett's promise to follow Hawaii's travel guidelines, Harbottle does not believe the trip should take place because of the stark differences in COVID-19 protocols between Arizona and Hawaii.
"I definitely don't agree with it. The environment there is totally different than the environment here," Harbottle said. "Students won't get the full Hawaii experience if they go right now, and the people there will take it negatively and feel like ASU doesn't respect them."
Sadie Buggle is the Editor of the State Press Opinion Desk. This is her third semester working for the State Press after two semesters reporting for the Community and Culture Desk.