Goldfarb Center hosts inaugural Freedom of Expression Symposium about immigration
by Sonia Lachter
Colby’s Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs held its inaugural Freedom of Expression Symposium on May 5 in Pulver Pavilion.
The Center invited students to submit proposals for poster presentations which were then narrowed down to ten proposals by a panel of three judges. The students behind these ten proposals, a mix of individuals and partners, presented their research proposals to the judges and to student voters in Pulver.
Four finalists were selected to advance to the next round based on student votes and the judges’ deliberations. After presenting again to the judges, a runner up and winner were selected, the former receiving a $500 prize and the latter earning $2,000. The other two finalists won $250.
The topic of this year’s Symposium was immigration. The Goldfarb Center incorporated this theme into its events throughout the year, hosting lectures including ones by Harvard Professor of Education Roberto Gonzales on his book DacaMented: Lives in Limbo; Alejandro Mayorkas, who implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) while working for President Obama; and Jose Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch.
This year’s topic of immigration produced a variety of proposals from students. The winning proposal, which Alex Ozols ’22 presented with Andrew Ordentlich ’22, focused on environmental refugees.
Ozols told the Echo, “Basically a climate refugee is someone displaced from their home by climate change and really New Zealand is the only country that has something in place about this. And we thought the United States is going to be affected by climate change, rising sea levels, so from a policy standpoint they should really be thinking about what is something we can put in place now for the next 20 years that’ll be making change in the next 20 years.”
Ozols thought that he and Ordentlich had a good chance of winning due to how original their presentation was. Ozols said, “I think [we have] originality in terms of a solution that really hasn’t been tackled before and haven’t really thought about in terms of the US Senate and House. Really anyone in the political realm of our country hasn’t really thought about climate refugees. Cities like Miami will be sunk in the next few decades and that’s a reality, that’s a fact. And no one’s really thinking about where those people are going to go… unless we start taking steps now it’s going to be too little, too late when it happens.”
In reflecting on how his proposal has been influenced by his time at Colby, Ozols recalled that for his first year Writing 1 course, he did a research paper on DACA, which taught him “how to really do good research and essentially put together real solutions and present a real problem that is definitely solvable and definitely achievable in this generation. And I think my W1 has helped me a lot with reading really dense articles and dense policies to effectively put out a good solution of how to combat climate change.”
Lukas Alexander ’22 explained his policy proposal of implementing Integrated Fixed Towers (IFTs) on the Southern border of the United States to the Echo, stating that, “the wall which President Trump has declared through a national emergency to build is not the best solution to creating a way of legal immigration. Rather, we need to, as a 21st century nation, really use the 21st century knowledge we possess, that being the IFTs.”
Alexander has real-life experience with IFTs, which prompted his use of them in his proposal. He commented, “I visited the part of Arizona where they have been implemented and had the unique opportunity to talk with Customs and Border Patrol agents there and discuss with them their experiences with it and the effectiveness that it has brought to the agency there. And they said it’s been enormously successful.”
Beyond the functionality of IFTs, Alexander sees a value in his proposal because he believes they are “a compromise for Republicans and Democrats, not something that is very polarizing like the current political state.”
Mellanie Charar ’21 and Erik Tacam-Tzunun ’21 used their proposal to advocate for the amendment of international law on political asylum. As Charar outlined, currently, “the [United Nations 1951] definition for political asylum is persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, and so on. So those are problems that are happening but they’re not the modern problems that are happening right now. The problems that are right now happening are gang violence, kidnapping, human trafficking, and climate migrants… Because, mainly, people flee from gang violence and they continue to the United States. They’re often rejected because it’s not considered persecution.”
Tacam-Tzunun said “there’s many reasons why people are trying to leave their home countries to go to the United States, but these factors are not being considered in the code book nowadays. So that’s why we’re trying to expand the codebook for political asylum so that we could consider these modern factors for why people leave their home nations and come to the United States.”
Outlining their research process for their proposal, Charar said that in addition to Pew Research Center and US Census data, two of her sociology courses at Colby have focused on migration. In addition, Tacam-Tzunun explained, “We also talked to [Assitant] Professor [of Government Lindsay] Mayka. She focuses on Latin American politics. So we spoke to her to ask for advice and I’m taking a class with her right now, ‘Latin American Politics.’ In that class, we’re talking about the immigration problem right now so this perfectly ties in with the project. So we spoke to her about how to address this issue of political asylum in the United States.”
Chloe Powers ’19 used her proposal to focus not on immigration policy but on larger conceptions surrounding immigration, specifically as expressed through the Symposium itself. Powers told the Echo, “Looking at this contest, I saw a couple m jor issues with the way it’s being set up. First of all, the prompt we were given is ‘immigration is a double-edged sword.’ Which I think is a pretty loaded way of talking about immigration because it implies a kind of violence or that there’s something dangerous about migration. Which is pretty in-line with a lot of popular discourse around migration, which is depicted as something that’s uncontrollable and violent, you see words like ‘hordes’ and ‘swarm’ being used a whole lot, which are pretty derogatory.”
Powers said, “I think that just describing it as a double-edged sword, that it implies that is both a benefit in some ways and also a problem. The only people for whom it is a benefit and the drawback are folks who can maybe gain something from immigration in terms of economic benefit but also may oppose it on xenophobic or racist grounds and so to do so I think is white supremacist and fascist. And so I want to call attention to that.”
Powers also focused on the title of the Symposium being “Freedom of Expression.” She commented, “we all know how freedom of speech has become a really polarized issue and the way it’s particularly been taken to protect hate speech in the US. And so… really there should be no platform for fascists and folks who are looking to basically impart violence on already marginalized communities.”
Powers’ proposal is based closely on her thesis through her Anthropology major and her eight months working on the Greek island of Lesvos, which she describes as “one of the borders where I think the majority of folks going into Europe in the ongoing migrant crisis have travelled.”
Drawing on this work and anthropological scholarship, Powers’ stance on the “double-edged sword” of immigration is, “to take an anti-racist and anti-fascist and decolonizing approach to borders and immigration policies more broadly is to participate in their undoing and I propose a fairly straightforward set of policy changes: to abolish ICE, open the borders, and recognize the freedom of movement as an inalienable human right. Which I think is a bare minimum for creating a world that is a little more just.”
Chasity McFadden ’20, a co-chair of Goldfarb’s Student Engagement Committee, told the Echo that the goal of the Symposium is “to allow students ideas to circulate on these hot topic issues.”
McFadden commented that the most difficult part of organizing the event was effectively publicizing it. McFadden explained that the reasoning behind having a monetary prize for the winners was “To incentivize students to participate. And it did, we have students participating.”