New study abroad course has a Humanities Lab spin

In fall 2018, Arizona State University professors Sujey Vega and Christiane Reves joined forces to team-teach an interdisciplinary Humanities Lab called Facing Immigration. The course was a hit, culminating in several student-led outcomes, including a mural that now blankets an exterior wall across from the downtown Phoenix YMCA. A second Facing Immigration Lab taught by other faculty followed in spring...

In fall 2018, Arizona State University professors Sujey Vega and Christiane Reves joined forces to team-teach an interdisciplinary Humanities Lab called Facing Immigration. The course was a hit, culminating in several student-led outcomes, including a mural that now blankets an exterior wall across from the downtown Phoenix YMCA. A second Facing Immigration Lab taught by other faculty followed in spring 2019. Students in that lab produced many art-inspired outcomes, including a second mural.

Fast forward a year and a half from that initial course collaboration and Vega, of the School of Social Transformation, and Reves, of the School of International Letters and Cultures, are still partnering on immigration. In the coming spring 2020 semester, Vega will teach a course called Immigration and Justice, and Reves is offering a course called Berlin: Migration, Art and Activism. From these two courses, as well from Facing Immigration, they plan to lead a cohort of interested students to continue research in a joint study abroad course that will travel to Berlin for the summer 2020 session.

The study abroad course, called Engage Berlin: Migration, Art and Justice, will follow the Humanities Lab model, utilizing the interdisciplinary team-teaching approach to offer students a hands-on, local-to-global research experience. The course will compare the major metropolitan cities of Phoenix and Berlin with regard to their migration patterns and responses to immigrants and refugees. Students headed into careers in policy-making, law, NGOs and other related fields will be afforded, “eye-opening firsthand knowledge (about) what’s going on across the globe in terms of migration and movement,” according to Vega. Students will conduct research and use qualitative data and art practices to process the findings as part of their experience.

Vega recalls that while teaching Facing Immigration, she and Reves would often have discussions with the class, juxtaposing Germany’s and the United States’ immigration policies and responses to their immigrants and refugees. Those discussions inspired the transitional focus of this new collaboration. The motivation for this summer program is to allow students to have hands-on experiences, understand how immigration-focused NGOs “work in both Phoenix and Berlin …  have conversations with refugees themselves and … get the training that many of them might need in the future for understanding the topic and how complex it is,” Vega said.

Storytelling and listening will also be at the center of the study abroad experience, as a tool to help students understand and humanize immigration and what it means to be an immigrant. Vega recalls that she and Reves started the first day of their Humanities Lab with a storytelling project, where they asked students to introduce each other through the act of storytelling.

"They would tell each other their immigration stories … and then when we got back together as a class, the student listening had to introduce the other student’s story.”

This storytelling kickoff was aimed at helping students to learn deep and empathic listening and to recognize how important immigration is in most Americans’ lives. These are the types of experiences that they hope to carry into their classrooms in spring and subsequently through the Berlin summer travel course.

Vega and Reves’ spring courses will also carry over the lab’s goal to blend students from undergraduate through doctoral levels, as happened in Facing Immigration.

Vega said that blending multilevel students “…was fantastic, because we (all) had different life experiences, which inspired different tasks throughout the lab. Graduate students took on a kind of mentoring role with undergraduates, and undergraduates rose to the expectation of the doctoral students, and so it became very kind of equitable.”

The study abroad course will be funded in part by a small seed grant awarded from ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. The grant both enables the study abroad piece and funds Vega’s and Reves’ research into the role of religion and gender immigrant responses by NGOs. They will also study how organizations choose to help immigrating populations and how their responses shape the ways in which governments and states address immigrant communities.

Students who are interested in being a part of the study abroad opportunity need to apply/sign up before Jan. 31.

The Study Abroad Office at ASU offers more than 250 program options in more than 65 countries, with program lengths ranging from one week to one year (and nearly anything in between). Financial aid and scholarships are available for students who participate in semester and yearlong programming.

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Maureen Kobierowski
nooch@asu.edu