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Friday, September 24, 2021

UC Davis launches program studying border, immigration-related issues

DANIEL TAK / AGGIE
DANIEL TAK / AGGIE

University begins offering graduate seminars on human rights, border policing.

On Nov. 13, the Mellon Initiative in Comparative Border Studies held a roundtable conversation entitled “Borders, Rights, and Resistance” at the Student Community Center.

The roundtable, which seeks to educate the community on security and immigration-related topics, is one of the first events to introduce a three-year investigation led by UC Davis professors Sunaina Maira and Robert McKee regarding the study of borders.

The roundtable featured guest speakers from various backgrounds. Speakers presented on behalf of a local, state, national and international perspectives. They also addressed various ideas including the relationship between human rights and borders, different levels of border policing and solidarity toward border-related injustices and experiences.

The discussion served as an introduction to a larger interdisciplinary comparative study funded by the Mellon Research Initiative in conjunction with UC Davis’ Humanities Institute. The initiative’s main goal is to fund a three-year academic investigation on a topic of immediate importance. For the initiative, the topic of Border Studies was chosen as one that needed to be critically investigated.

The investigation is split into three topics for three years. Currently, the investigation is focused on “Human Rights, Citizenship, and Racialized Belonging.” Next year, the study will be focused on “Mobility, Militarization, and Containment.” In the following year , the study will revolve around “Protest Cultures and Transnational Solidarity.”

Currently, there are two graduate seminars being offered under this study. Dr. Maurice Stierl, a Mellon assistant professor hired to help with the investigation, is teaching a seminar titled “Resistance as Method: Social Struggles in a Violent World.” Next quarter, Maira will be teaching a graduate seminar entitled “Human Rights and Protest.”

The investigation is also planning on launching events in the future that are open to everyone. According to Irwin, the study hopes to hold events such as performances at the Mondavi Center, an exhibition at the Shrem Museum of Art and talks regarding the borders present in Yolo county.

For several professors involved in the study, the initiative’s approach is different from border study programs established by other universities. According to Border Studies co-director Robert Irwin,  this study is unlike typical border study initiatives because it seeks to re-examine the notion of borders through the shared experiences of the people affected and the activism it brought about.

“The main goals are to address the question of borders, how it functions, what they mean, particularly what they mean in people’s everyday lives,” Irwin said. “So we’re doing that not from a perspective of government policy rather from the grassroots, from the bottom up […] from the perspective of people’s everyday lives.”

Irwin, who is also a professor in Spanish and Portuguese languages, is utilizing his academic background to help add depth to the study of border and border rights. One of his most recent projects involved  helping an incarcerated immigrant translate their story. Irwin personally hopes that the investigation and analysis these kinds of experiences adds a new level of depth to the study of borders.

“My idea […] is to make visible and give some diffusion to stories like this one,” Irwin said. “[This will] hopefully encourage people to think critically and broadly about borders, immigration, and mobility issues.”

For Stierl, the study goes beyond identifying borders as a physical separation between nations and instead views borders from perspectives both outside and inside borders.

“The importance I think is to rethink borders. In mainstream discourse there is the assumption that the border is like a line made of a fence or a wall,” Stierl said. “[The study] is not saying that these barriers, these physical obstacles, are less significant. They are crucial but we also have to rethink borders in a way that does justice to their diffusion.”

While the seminars offered are for graduate students only, the topic itself is an ongoing issue that anyone can study at any time. For undergraduates who may be interested in the topic, Stierl advises to simply be aware of one’s surroundings.

“The good and bad thing is that borders are not just on the edge of nation-states but they run throughout society. You can see how people are being deported, how people are being taken from certain communities, all these struggles around these issues,” Stierl said. “So if you want to be engaged in [Border Studies], you can just look around you and see the divisions of society and how borders are behind it.”

Visit the study’s website to learn more about upcoming events.

Written by: Katrina Manrique – campus@theaggie.org

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