Global Neighborhood Association hosts student and faculty panel on migration

The November GNA dinner featured “The Migrant’s Tale: A Panel Exploring the Meaning Behind the Movement.” The members of the panel, which included students, faculty, and Elon community members, discussed their different migration experiences.

The Global Neighborhood hosted its final house dinner of the fall semester on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. As part of National French week, the evening’s menu included coq au vin and a selection of French desserts.

Instead of a single speaker, the event featured a diverse panel of people who discussed migration experiences. Sarra Eddahiri is a junior whose family came to the United States in 2014 from Tunisia in response to the Arab Spring. Juan Vega Rios, a first-year student, moved the U.S. with his family when he was 4 years old. Jason Kirk, associate professor of political science and policy studies, discussed migration from a broader context and also through the experiences of his wife’s family, who came from South India. Jo Petit is a visiting Fulbright scholar. She is a professor of English and has come to Elon from the United Kingdom. Finally, Blanca Zendejas Nienhaus came to the United States from Mexico when she married her husband, Associate Professor of Business Communication Brian Nienhaus. The panel was skillfully moderated by Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies L.D. Russell.

Panelists began by introducing themselves and telling what motivated their migrations. Some motivations were political or economic. Nienhaus asked the audience to guess her motivation; after a number of clues, a student was able to guess that the answer was “love.”

The panelists discussed the struggles they faced. Then began an enthusiastic conversation period. Attendees considered several questions about migration in light of the panelists’ remarks. Students found their stereotypes of migration were challenged by the experiences of the panelists. They recognized challenges faced by migrants, including language, bureaucracy, and the strong emotions caused by leaving one’s home and family.

Finally, students considered what strategies might help migrants overcome these challenges. One student asked the panel for their opinion about strategies. Simple things like smiling, kindness and starting conversations are easy and very effective.

In conclusion, Russell reminded the audience that one way people think about migrants and immigrants is with fear. But he asked the group to consider what westand to gain when people bring gifts from outside. And what might we miss if we close borders?