by Bailey Blaker
While it may seem like the issues surrounding the U.S.-Mexico border do not affect us here in rural Ohio, the members of Associate Professor of Sociology Jennifer Johnson’s Borders and Border Crossings class set out to show the opposite. The 200-level sociology class incorporates both real-life experience and classroom discussion to approach controversial topics like immigration and the militarization of border crossings around the world. Over spring break, the class travelled to the borderlands in Tucson, Ariz. and parts of Mexico to experience the border firsthand. The class is not funded through the school, so members had to pay their own way. “We would love to make it so that the class is funded by the school,” class member Eliza Blum ’15 said. “That would really be awesome for people who otherwise couldn’t afford it.”
Having lived in both Honduras and Peru, Eliza Blum ’15 had a deep personal interest in the borderlands before taking the class. Blum, with a few other members of the class, took charge of creating the art installation that they presented on Middle Path from April 12 to April 16. The art installation simulated checkpoints that can be found throughout the borderlands and included many aspects of the border culture that the class encountered on their trip. Signs asking for identification, candles, roses, activist posters and colorful water jugs that represented the aid provided for migrants in the borderlands all contributed to the experience. “We wanted there to be a checkpoint so Kenyon could feel what it’s like for the people living in the borderlands,” Blum said. “[It was also] a chance to feel that experience of being policed by a structure like that.”
Class member Taylor Scult ’15 worked on a migrant farm in Odell, Ore. when she was just 13 years old, and also experienced living on a Native American reservation when she was in high school. “While I was there [on the reservation], I learned about the intersectionality of Native American history and Chicano history in the same region, and the ways in which these two populations have been simultaneously disenfranchised,” she said. The class appealed to Scult because of her personal experiences and because of its hands-on approach. “I’m a huge proponent of experiential education,” she said. “It gives you a sense of urgency, and gives you a human face to something that’s kind of abstract just reading about it in a book.”
After the installation came down, the class put parts of the piece back up in the Horn Gallery. On Thursday, April 16, the class held a public forum to discuss the installation and the issue that inspired it. During the forum, members of Borders and Border Crossings shared what they had learned both inside and outside of the classroom about immigration and the border.
Celia Cullom ’15 shared her experiences with Reverend John Fife, founder of the activist groups Samaritans, No More Deaths and Humane Borders, during the trip to the border. “I asked [Fife] if people in the [Tucson] community were receptive to his efforts,” she said. “What he said was that the closer you go to the border, the more sympathetic people are, because the more aware they are.” Bringing awareness about the issue of immigration and the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border to campus was the intention behind both the art installation and the public forum. “I think [Kenyon Students for Justice in Palestine] has done a really good job to make people aware about the Israeli-Palestinian border, but we don’t talk about this border that exists in our own country,” Cullom said. “I think it’s something that needs to be talked about more.” The end of the public forum was devoted to the students present in the audience. The students encouraged their audience to ask any questions about immigration that they wanted to, and the members of the class did their best to foster constructive discussion. “We’re talking about borders in a more abstract sense,” Cullom said. “Not just immigration policies, but how are borders constructed, why they’re constructed. … It’s an issue that I think is really important right now.”
Learn more about the group’s experiences at bordersandbordercrossings.wordpress.com.