Walking into a room with a sign that says “Tough Talks” on the door can be intimidating. Discussion topics are often heavy – Black Lives Matter, Patriotism vs. Protest, Bystanders and Crime – and can elicit strong responses from the general public. Imagine comment threads on social media for some of these topics. They’re often filled with hateful comments, ignorant opinions, and no opportunity for reasonable voices to give thoughtful input. The Tough Talks series, hosted by the Division for Diversity and Inclusion, aims to counter that type of narrative with open dialogue.
The Unwelcome Immigrant?
Paula Rivero, a senior graphic design major from Bucaramanga, Santandar (Colombia), attended all four of the Fall 2017 Tough Talks series The Unwelcome Immigrant? to learn different perspectives on U.S. immigration issues. Rivero said, “It was particularly refreshing to be in an environment that is interested in discussing problematic topics while respecting each other’s opinions. Talking about these touchy subjects with the purpose of learning, informing one another, and fighting ignorance allows our society to grow and develop.”
Discussions centered around four key topics, with one being the highlight each week:
- Who are the immigrants?
- What would a wall do?
- Why a travel ban?
- Immigration: it’s not as easy as you think.
Despite having different topic strands each week, common themes began to emerge.
Many students, staff, and faculty from the United States were unaware of what being an immigrant means for a person coming to the U.S. International Services staff members and immigrant staff and faculty shared a little about the immigration process and their own experiences. Participants learned the process was more complicated than it might seem.
Participants also learned that international students studying at Missouri State are not immigrants at all. They’re actually here on non-immigrant visas, a different type of visa than someone seeking work permits or permanent residency. Learning about the different types of visas and immigrant statuses helped everyone become more informed.
As one might expect, President Trump often came up in the conversation. One piece of particularly valuable insight came from an international student with family struggling to leave one of the “travel ban” countries. He explained that many of the immigration issues coming to light now have actually been issues for many years, and in his opinion were only receiving a new type of media attention with our current administration.
Perception of immigrants in the media also came into play. We hear a lot about illegal immigrants on the news. Does that message lead us to think poorly of immigrants in general?
These themes came down to simple questions that can be tough to ask and answer. Do we really want, need, or value immigrants as part of the U.S.? Is there a reason to step outside of our cultural comfort zone to explore other parts of the world?
For some participants, this was the first opportunity to explore their own viewpoint on such questions. Others already had firm opinions on the issues. Some came to persuade, some to listen, and some because they were assigned to for class. All were respected, all were heard, and all left with more information and personal insights into the issues than when they arrived.
For Rivero, this was a chance to learn what her U.S. peers might think of her and her family living here, and was happy to share her own experiences and listen to others. “After all, this is your country and we are here to share our cultures and perspectives with you. I feel super lucky to go to a university where people are so concerned with making sure each one of the international students they bring into the country feels welcome. I surely have appreciated these efforts and words will never be enough to express my gratitude.”