Students Promote Social Justice Through Conference

Posted on March 26th, 2010 by

"I Am We Are" performs during Building Bridges 2010 (Alex Messenger '10)

Gustavus students bring awareness and action to campus each year through the Building Bridges conference on diversity. March 13, 2010 was dedicated to the social justice issues related to immigration. In its 15th year, Building Bridges is student-led and student-initiated. It addresses a specific global and social issue each conference.

The 2010 conference, titled “Immigration: Surviving the land of Opportunity,” focused on the struggles of immigrants and addressed controversial immigration issues. Through theatrical performances, guest speakers, workshops, and interactive/action activities, Building Bridges brought awareness of immigration issues to hundreds of people from the campus and area communities.

The Gustavus social-justice theatre troupe “I Am We Are” kicked off the day-long conference with a performance based on personal experiences of some of its members’ own immigration journeys.

Keynote speakers Kao Kalia Yang and Dr. Paul Hillmer approached immigration from different yet complementary perspectives. Yang, author of The Late Homecomer: a Hmong Family Memoir, discussed her family’s struggles as they fought their way through the jungles of Laos during the Vietnam War and their long journey to America.

“Keep trying at it because when we fail, we fail among champions not losers–champions,” said Yang as she stressed the importance of the Building Bridges Committee and its commitment to social justice.

Dr. Hillmer introduced his project working with the Hmong students he has encountered while teaching. Hillmer interviewed and recorded immigrants and compiled information about Hmong history that led to a book, A People’s History of the Hmong. Both speakers went back and forth supporting and reflecting on each other’s experiences with immigration.

Corresponding afternoon workshops offered a variety of perspectives on the issue of immigration. Workshops included:

Through the Eyes of Immigrants, a session where Gustavus students, faculty, and staff members shared their personal experience with immigration.

Keynote Questions and Answers, in which conference attendees had the opportunity to ask both speakers questions.

Immigration in Minnesota and the Refugee Experience, which focused on refugees’ experiences and Minnesota’s unique immigration system.

No Second Chance, a presentation that focused on the naturalization process, deportation, and the effects of immigrant criminal activity.

The Somali Diaspora: A Journey Away, which allowed participants to hear stories and view photographs of families from Somalia and their journey to America.

Between Two Worlds: Photo Essay from Our Border, presented by Don Bartletti who shared his experiences at the border and his thoughts on immigration.

Finally, the conference encouraged people to donate, actively participate, and take action. A food drive, formal wear drive, and care-package assembly were organized to help out recently arrived immigrants and the people in need living in the Saint Peter-Mankato-North Mankato area. Participants also had the chance to experience the process of immigration with the Interactive Walk Through, a simulation of becoming a citizen including a U.S. citizenship test.

Here is a short video recapping the conference.


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