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Whitworth philosophy major, Act Six student selected for PBS's "American Experience" Freedom Ride 2011

April 19, 2011
Whitworth junior philosophy major Benjameen Quarless is among 40 college students nationwide who have been selected for the 2011 Student Freedom Ride, a 10-day journey May 6-16 that will trace the route taken by the original freedom riders of 1961. The ride will mark the 50th anniversary of the original freedom rides and coincides with the premiere of the film Freedom Riders, to be aired on PBS' American Experience series on Monday, May 16, at 9 p.m. ET.

Quarless was selected out of nearly 1,000 applicants representing a diverse section of America. The selected students hail from 33 states and Washington, D.C., along with others who grew up in China, Tajikistan and Haiti.

"I want to understand the energy and principles that drive this movement, as well as learn about how the current struggle for civil rights can be improved," Quarless says. "I expect to learn a lot about myself and my personal stance on issues concerning access to resources, education and racial equality and plan to bring what I learn back to Whitworth's campus."

The Freedom Riders of 1961 were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated South to test a U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation in the restaurants and waiting rooms in terminals serving buses that crossed state lines. The rides, and the reactions to them, helped strengthen the Civil Rights Movement and called national attention to how the South disregarded federal laws and continued to enforce segregation.

Accompanied by Freedom Riders filmmaker Stanley Nelson, original freedom riders and others, students on the Freedom Ride 2011 will participate in a traveling classroom and learn about the commitment and courage of the people who took part in the Freedom Rides. Organizers also intend for the Ride to serve as a launching point for a larger conversation about the role of civic engagement in a thriving democracy, to explore what issues inspire students to "get on the bus" today, and to look at what forms civic engagement is taking on campuses and in communities across the country.

Kicking off in Washington, D.C., the ride will trace the original route through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana, stopping along the way at historically significant locations. The journey will end in New Orleans, the intended destination of the 1961 Freedom Riders.

To follow the journey online, follow their Facebook page:, or Twitter account: @FreedomRidePBS. The Freedom Riders team will frequently post and tweet updates along the way.

Quarless, a resident of Tacoma, Wash., also is a student scholar in The Act Six Leadership & Scholarship Initiative. Launched in 2002 by the Northwest Leadership Foundation, in Tacoma, Act Six seeks to develop urban and community leaders to be agents of transformation on campus and in their home communities.

Whitworth was the first university to launch an Act Six affiliate in 2002 and supports the program as part of its longstanding commitment to be a place where the richness of an education of mind and heart is available to all people. Act Six scholars at Whitworth, including Quarless, who also was a member of the debate team that took third place this spring at the National Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, participate and lead in athletics, community service, international study abroad programs, music, student leadership and enriching campus discourse inside and outside the classroom.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.


Emily Proffitt, public information officer, Whitworth University, (509) 777-4703, or