Border Issues to be Examined in New Course

Angela Sanchez '12, Kate Harloe '12 and Corinne Bancroft '10.
Angela Sanchez '12, Kate Harloe '12 and Corinne Bancroft '10.
Strange, but exciting. That’s how Kate Harloe ’12 described the somewhat unusual academic pursuit that she and Corinne Bancroft ’10 took on this semester. Not only did Harloe and Bancroft propose a new interdisciplinary course for the upcoming spring semester, but they wrote the syllabus and recruited an enthusiastic team of faculty to teach it. The enterprise was strange due to its role-reversing nature, and exciting in that the students assumed a new involvement in their education.

The class, titled “Borderlands,” will deal with border justice and the theory of nation-states along the U.S.-Mexican border. Among its concerns are contemporary issues surrounding immigration, detention centers and bilingual education.

“We have asked each professor to share with us their expertise on these issues, so by the end of the semester we will have a solid body of knowledge on the subject,” Bancroft said. Each professor involved will teach a one- or two-week section of the course, and will draw on a specific aspect of the complex U.S.-Mexican border situation. Bancroft and Harloe discussed their project with a number of Hamilton faculty members and were met with ardent support.

“Each professor has given us a lot of feedback,” Harloe said. Participating faculty members, she noted, will address pertinent topics related to their respective disciplines. For example, Margaret Bundy Scott Professor of Comparative Literature Nancy Rabinowitz plans to gear her class time toward the types and influences of literature relating to the borderlands. Rabinowitz will also serve as co-coordinator of the class, along with Cultural Education Center Director Madeleine Lopez. She will lecture on the history of the U.S.-Mexican border. Other professors taking part in the course include Professor of Economics Paul Hagstrom, Consortium for Faculty Diversity Fellow in Sociology Isabel Martinez, Jane Watson Irwin Visiting Associate Professor of Women's Studies Heather Merrill, and Professor of Government Steve Orvis.

The students’ inspiration originated in a trip to Arizona last spring. A group of about 30 Hamilton students, including Bancroft and Harloe, participated in No More Deaths, a humanitarian organization whose aim is to eradicate death and suffering along the border. Speaking with migrant workers gave Harloe a better feel for the state of affairs there. “We all came back really excited about what we had done there,” she said. “So naturally, we were interested in learning more.”

She and Bancroft became good friends during their experience in Arizona and decided to act on their gut feeling that several layers of conflict were hidden underneath the surface. They thought about what questions they had and began to design a course building off of them.

“What better place to learn than here?” Bancroft asked. Hamilton professors were initially skeptical about their proposal – they didn’t think it would be ready by the spring semester. But the students did not want to settle for an independent study.
“We wanted to make it a course instead of an independent study so it could be open to the whole campus and not a specific interest group,” Bancroft said. After meeting with the Chair of the Committee on Academic Policy (CAP), Professor of Psychology Jonathan Vaughan, the students were confident that they could pull together a syllabus in time. The faculty they had spoken with were also very committed to helping them make it an actual course.

Harloe and Bancroft admit that the process was hard, but worth it. They took the questions they thought were most important and asked professors to elaborate on them.

Blogging will be an integral part of the course, said Harloe. It will serve as a “home base” for reflections on past classes and help keep the course coherent. In addition, students will be required to attend certain outside events, like film showings and guest speakers. A spring trip to Arizona is also strongly recommended. At the beginning of the term, each student will be linked with a professor who has similar interests, and that professor will act as an advisor for a cumulative paper. In this way, most of the class is focused on reading and discussion.

“It’s really a group experience,” Harloe said. “It’s all about defining what you want to learn, and you get so many different perspectives out of it.”

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