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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Immigration awareness panel discusses acceptance

Published: October 3, 2014
Section: News

On Monday evening in the Mandel atrium, as part of Immigration Awareness week, the Brandeis Labor Coalition (BLC), the Brandeis Immigration Education Initiative (BIEI) and the Caribbean Cultural Club (CCC) co-sponsored a discussion panel on education. The panel was led by Dean of Students Jamele Adams, Marina Offner, a representative from admissions who was born in Brazil and is currently a permanent U.S. resident, and Katherine Lobo, an adjunct professor who teaches education courses.

BIEI, as the primary sponsor of the evening’s activities, has been working to make the Brandeis admissions process blind to the legal status of its applications.

“I guess I’d hope for students to be more aware of other people’s situations in their own country; that there are immigrants in other countries like the U.S. who are just trying to get access to education,” said Jeremy Moxey ’17, president of the CCC.

They were met with success last semester when Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel made a statement announcing that Brandeis would now consider undocumented students on an equal basis as American citizens and permanent residents. This year, BIEI is striving to change the mindset of the student population by hosting educational and informative events in order to raise awareness of the discrimination that immigrants and the children of immigrants face.

“We spend so much time and effort working with admissions,” Yasmin Yousof ’15, the president of BIEI, commented. “We wanted to get away from that and have more interactions with the actual Brandeis community.”

Within minutes of the opening of the panel, the formalized setting of the rows of chairs transformed into a circle, in which all three discussion leaders sat amongst the audience and encouraged students to ask questions. The atmosphere allowed for one question to flow right into the next. Students turned to one another as they shared their own personal stories, experiences and even fears in order to help convey the magnitude of the problems faced by immigrants.

When the conversation looked at combatting the hateful attitudes toward immigrants, students analyzed how Irish and Italian immigrants were once nearly demonized and are now accepted in society.

“My fear is that it would take another group to … take the pressure and the attacks and put it on another group,” the student stated.

Adams responded about the importance of educating students on these issues.

“I think that how we get to the bottom of that is, again, through education,” said Adams. “If we infuse into education the contributions of other people, it’ll change the way we see them. Ignorance is only bad when you choose to be ignorant.”

Lobo contributed an anecdote of how one of her younger Mexican ESL students would respond to discrimination by proudly stating, “Well, we invented chocolate milk!”

After the quiet chuckles in the room died down, the panel continued to reinforce the idea that education and learning about others is the best way to create change, not just in the classroom, but outside it, as well. Lobo reflected upon some of the conversations held within her Belmont public school classroom.

“Being respectful and engaging each other in discussion changes the climate of the space and that was the most amazing opportunity,” said Lobo.

After the panel ended, students lingered in the atrium, discussing ideas that had been brought up earlier. Yousof invited everyone to attend Immigration Awareness Week’s final event, the Dream Monologue, on Friday evening, Oct. 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. Students will perform their own work that they had created around the theme of their own experiences.

Yousof was questioned about what she wanted students to be able to take away from this event and from Immigration Awareness Week.

“If you are on the end of being or knowing an immigrant, I want them to walk away knowing that they aren’t alone,” Yousof said. “In one word? Solidarity. [To] create solidarity across all walks of student life.”