New one credit class focuses on immigrant justice

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The Statue of Liberty, given its proximity to Ellis Island, became a symbol of hope for new immigrants. The UConn Latino American Studies department is now offering a new course: LLAS 3990: Organizing for Immigrant Justice. This course covers grassroot organizing and immigrant justice. Photo by Pixabay on

The University of Connecticut Latino and Latin American Studies department is offering a one-credit immigrant justice class for the first time this semester.  

“LLAS 3990: Organizing for Immigrant Justice will give students a hands-on introduction to grassroot organizing,” Anne Gebelein, associate director of UConn’s El Instituto, said. The class will have discussions on topics such as residency, detention and radical solidarity, as well as allowing students to work with activism projects.  

“Students will have the opportunity to work with local activist groups in Connecticut to participate in organizing projects that support immigrants,” Gebelein said. “The class discussion will focus on our understanding of how and why people come together over immigration, and the work they do to improve conditions, promote legislation, educate others or provoke needed change.”  

The class will be facilitated by Grace Lemire, an eighth semester undergraduate student with a social justice organizing minor, while Gebelein will oversee the course. Lemire said LLAS 3990 was created as a way to serve as her Capstone course for her minor, as well as educate other undergraduates.  

“[Gebelein and I] decided to focus on immigrant justice because it is a topic [Gebelein] is well-versed in and would be a great learning opportunity for me,” Lemire said. “In discussing how I might organize students and connect them to local activist groups, the idea of a one-credit course on immigrant justice emerged. A course can provide students with both a general understanding and an opportunity to gain credit for exploring new topics and working with others in the community.”  

LLAS 3990 is offered as a synchronous distance learning class on Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 5:50 p.m. During class time, students will participate in open discussion and talk to guest speakers, Lemire said.  

“A course can provide students with both a general understanding and an opportunity to gain credit for exploring new topics and working with others in the community.”

“Outside of class time, students will learn from various materials such as readings, videos and podcasts,” Lemire said. “Students will also engage in an organizing project of their choice to support immigrants and local activist groups in [Connecticut].”  

Gebelein said that there will be guest speakers from the new College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office Anti-Racist Activist-in-Residence Program. According to the Daily Digest, two of the guest speakers will be two UConn activists-in-residence, Varun Khattar and MaryJoan Picone.  

Students will learn background information on current immigration practices in the United States and grassroot practice. Both Gebelein and Lemire said having a solid foundation of knowledge on these topics will let students realize what issues they are most interested in.  

“It is important to be informed about immigration policy and practice in order to maximize our effectiveness and support in the community, and to understand what motivates grassroots groups to launch specific initiatives,” Gebelein and Lemire said in a joint statement. “We also believe that every individual will have different areas of expertise and comfortability.”  

Some students will choose to work in court accompaniment, Gebelein said. Court accompaniment is “the practice of supporting people who ask for help in navigating the immigration court system.” For those who do not work in court accompaniment, they will work with activist groups on a variety of projects, such as creating awareness campaigns.  

Gebelein said that by participating in activism, students can test their skills in real world situations.  

“Anti-immigrant sentiment is very high in this historical moment and given the border crisis, it has a latino face.”

“Our major Latino and Latin American Studies requires students to engage with Latino and migrant communities, and we have numerous opportunities for hands-on learning,” Gebelein said. “Students learn best when they are actively applying what they learn in the classroom to the world around them, and our major also guarantees them community experience for their resumes. We have many students interested in serving immigrant and refugee populations in the state, but they often don’t know how to explore potential volunteer and career opportunities.”  

Gebelein said it is valuable to have a class focusing on immigrant justice because it will help combat misconceptions about immigrants.  

“Anti-immigrant sentiment is very high in this historical moment and given the border crisis, it has a Latino face,” Gebelein said. “This is of deep concern to faculty and students in [the Latino and Latin American Studies department] and we want to be of assistance to folks who are trying to educate others and improve people’s safety and quality of life in [Connecticut].”   

For the spring 2021 semester, all seats are currently filled, Gebelein said. If the class goes smoothly over this semester, there is a chance the class will be offered every fall and spring semester going forward.  

Both Lemire and Gebelein said they want the current students to end the semester having learned what Connecticut agencies and organizations do to support immigrants and how they can work besides their missions.  

“We want immigrants here to realize their full potential, strengthen our communities, and our economy.”

“We want students to leave the class able to educate others about immigration with accurate, evidence-driven, experiential information,” Lemire and Gebelein said in a joint statement. “Lastly, we want to give students the opportunity to grow personally from an application of, and reflection on, their ethical values.”  

Gebelein said by giving students opportunities to work with local activist and grassroots organizations, it is one step towards improving Connecticut’s well-being.  

“We need to be partners with the community in this education process, learn from each other and combine our expertise to make our state a welcoming one,” Gebelein said. “We want immigrants here to realize their full potential, strengthen our communities and our economy.”  


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