Teach-in examines immigration through different academic disciplines

28 February 2017
Alex Garoffolo, Student Writer

A panel composed of professors and one student commented on what immigration means to America and the effects of Trump’s executive orders on the subject.

“It makes us feel like our country could be next” said Aiken Sujana, the president of the Association of International Students, when asked how Trump’s travel ban made international students at TU feel. He complimented TU on its treatment of international students and its welcoming approach to campus communications (signs on Hardesty and in the English Language Institute).

He was one of the members of a six person panel of professors and himself who gave their takes on the current state of immigration in America.

The other “Teach-In” members, each representing a different department, were: Joseph Bradley (History), Bob Jackson (English), Elana Newman (Psychology), Elizabeth McCormick (Law) and Mark Brewin (Communications). The term “Teach-In” refers to any educational forum on a complex topic. These events were first popularized in the United States during the Vietnam War era.

Professor Bradley spoke about the connection between current conservative American fear towards immigrants and the quotas on immigration the country put in place during WWII years. Until 1941, Jews could freely emigrate from Germany, but the quota America set for German immigrants was 25,000. In 1939 alone, post-Kristallnacht, the United States denied 300,000 applications for visas from European Jews, regardless of their country of origin.

“In modern society, we must accept some level of difference. The globalized community is too heterogeneous, too large not to” claimed Professor Brewin. He outlined the idea of deliberative democracy (that we as a society are logical and social enough to solve communal problems) and contrasted it with the writings of Carl Schmitt, who said that all politics is simply a distinction of enemies vs. friends. “It is imperative for us today,” Brewin warned, “that we realize the difference between adversaries and enemies.” An adversary, as he put it, is somebody who disagrees with one’s opinions or sees opposite viewpoints; however, he is somebody with whom one can argue and reason. Enemy means a person who is inherently set against someone. Right now, especially in the Trump administration, Americans can see people like Michael Flynn, who spoke of his adversaries (Muslims) not as those who simply disagreed with him, but as those who were existential threats to his existence. This rhetoric will not lead to a solution to any immigration issues, Brewen concluded.

Professor Newman, who specializes in the psychology of trauma and distress, talked about the human side of immigration. “We need to think of what it means to be ripped away from your family. What does it mean to be deported from the country you’ve known your whole life?” she asked the audience.

The American Psychological Association distributed a press release earlier in February in which it unanimously declared that the travel ban cuts off America’s access to overseas scientific talent, creating a significant brain drain. Not to mention, deportation has extremely negative long-term effects on the brain. According to the press release, deporting immigrants who’ve already given America so much will “have an incalculable social impact” on the nation.

“It seems that we Americans have forgotten what legitimate protest looks like” Professor Jackson said. He will teach a class next semester on the history of American protest literature. He claimed that talking about protest was akin to “examining the very soul of America.”

Next, he rattled off a long list of literature (starting the with the Declaration of Independence) that has influenced this country since its very creation. The overarching theme was that every time there’s a group oppressed, as authors of these various pieces were, it is always minorities (“What to the Slave Is the Meaning of the Fourth of July?”), Frederick Douglass) or immigrants (The Jungle, Upton Sinclair).

In all, the panel came to the conclusion that immigration is a key topic to understanding both ourselves and our nation’s past.