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Johns Hopkins University students and community members protest ICE presence on campus (photo courtesy of the John Hopkins Student News-Letter)

Teaching in Times of State Violence

In thinking through what my instruction looks like, I have begun to take into account what the act of deportation does to a family, how it can be addressed and thinking through trauma informed pedagogies to recognize its impact.

I travel to campuses around the country to speak on a regular basis. I protest regularly in front of a detention center in Los Angeles where detainees are picked up by ICE. The line between the two spaces has become blurred. While there are many articles written about how to develop civility within the classroom or further conversations across divides, I worry that we often miss the political landscape in the classroom where students enter with multiple layers of trauma from state violence.

There have been various efforts that one can be guided by in terms of Black Lives Matters syllabi and texts. Another example is Islamophobia is Racism.com. These types of syllabi can be very helpful tools in negotiating the terrain of the classroom. 

My question is specifically in the realm of working with students who are refugees, migrants who may be under threat of deportation and students who come into our classroom having experienced the trauma of state incarceration as part of their immigration story. Some thoughts on this topic that I have garnered over the last few years:

(1) Deportation can be like a death in the family. The state currently engages in deportation in ways that are sudden, targeted and immediate. In the last few years we have been protesting in specific cases. When we focused on one family or individual and trying to keep them in the country the protest itself became an act or ritual for grief.

Because of state targeting, it may be difficult to acknowledge this loss. It is reminiscent of the literature on forced state disappearances in countries around the world. One cannot seek protection from the entity that caused the loss and further more, it may not be viewed socially as a legitimate cause for grief. 

In thinking through what my instruction looks like, I have begun to take into account what the act of deportation does to a family, how it can be addressed and thinking through trauma informed pedagogies to recognize its impact. The threat of deportation is in itself a source of serious trauma. The state is well aware of this and we need to see this threat, whether carried out or not as a form of structural violence that impacts our students. For students who may not be under threat, the journey and story of their own migration process can carry heavy narratives of state violence. Hundreds of cases of sexual violence have also been reported.

(2) Sanctuary and its practices on campus. Surveillance of students has become  way of life for many academic institutions. We now know that ICE has even used fake universities to set up sting operations for students seeking higher education in the US. As faculty, to what degree is our role compromised or dictated by a university policy that gathers information on our students? While some campuses have declared themselves sanctuary campuses, the lived reality of whether interaction on campus, on social media and other venues can be sources utilized against our students is a reality. Public universities report that ICE agents come regularly to campuses.

It is important to know your university policies on sanctuary, what it means for you as a faculty member, what they will do to protect students, what role  you can have as a faculty member and if your campus law enforcement or local law enforcement has policies and procedures in collaborating with ICE. 

(3) Refugee ban and its impact. I have also been meeting students who are faced with being in limbo about their status in the US. Coupled with a rise in Islamophobia and pre-existing racism rooted in their embodiment they can experience fear of uncertainty and the encumbered fear of not seeing their families. 

The Muslim ban impacts some Muslim majority nations in which the state is also active in supporting  various forms of aggressions, such as Yemen. Students who hail from these countries (and adding to that list Iran as we go to press on this column). They may be legal US citizens but have family in the impacted nation that is now not able to join them or they may not be able to see in person again.  Let this sink in, the multiple layers of state violence. Prosecuted abroad to create conditions for refugees and then a shutdown of the entry for those refugees. 

I have highlighted just a few of the challenges our students face in our schools as the state impinges on their human rights.  I encourage you to explore these issues further in your instruction. White nationalist propaganda is on the rise on campuses.  Emboldened by state policies and practices that support dehumanization of immigrants to this country, I imagine we will continue to see a rise in this hate related speech and crimes. 

In particular, it is a way to teach some of the intersections between theologies that support dehumanization, mass incarceration, the role faith leaders are playing as agents against this forms of state violence and the role of the university as a venue for fostering values of empathy, critical thinking and public engagement. A wonderful resource is Freedom For Immigrants.

Consider getting the appropriate training from a local immigrant rights organization to teach the contextual issues your community faces. For example in much of the refugee discourse, Black immigrants are rendered invisible. Hence reaching out to organizations like BAJI, Black Alliance for Just Immigration can make visible communities that may be present in your classroom and community but not talked about in the media and scholarship that is often referenced. 

There are many ways that weaponized borders and anti-immigrant policies have a direct impact on the minds, hearts and bodies of our students. If you have already altered your pedagogies and syllabi, kudos to you. If you’re just beginning that journey, I hope this material is helpful! 

The Social Mortgage on National Sovereignty in the Immigration Debate

The prophetic role of the Church here is to crack open and break up this renewed parochial nationalism, and remind all of the words of Paul in Galatians 3:28, that regardless of background, we are all one in Jesus Christ.

Particular Identities in the Christian Multiverse

The import of particular identities for the national identity is not to be dismissed precisely because it is what the nationalist agenda attempts. This means that our religious discourse has to account for particular identity experiences as integral parts or building blocks of a multifaceted universal and not as something to be merely included or absorbed by a pre-existing universal condition.

Bearing Witness to the Lived Realities of Our Migrant Kin

We Christians who are citizens must be physically present on the border with México, that we might bear witness to the realities of what we experience alongside those who are most acutely affected by the policies of the current Administration.

Walls/Borders: Visible Signs of Militarized Colonial Desires Past and Present

Borders signify the advancing presence of imperial desires and colonial fantasies of gradual yet total dispossession and disappearance of peoples of other nations that continue the founding settler colonial violence in the US.

Teaching in Times of State Violence

In thinking through what my instruction looks like, I have begun to take into account what the act of deportation does to a family, how it can be addressed and thinking through trauma informed pedagogies to recognize its impact.

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