Equipped to Lead and Succeed

Undergrads Publish Teaching Activity Demonstrating Biases Against Migrants

by Daniel Morgan

In Fall 2015, Jimena and Xantal Tejada, two Communication Studies majors (and, as it happens, cousins), were required to design a teaching activity in Prof. Brandi Lawless’s “International Conflict and Alliance Building” class. Drawing from their own personal experiences, they designed an activity that was so impactful that many of their classmates felt transformed by it.

The purpose of the activity was to build empathy with marginalized, migrating communities while developing a more nuanced understanding of identity negotiation, the activity write up stated.

People are moving, borders are changing, and bodies are being regulated. Within this global movement, many people’s identities are caught in-between nation states, citizenship, and social categories.

Ascribed vs. Avowed Identities

Of the concept, Xantal Tejada explained, “We were presenting an article that we had read on the Israel-Palestine conflict and decided to base our activity on the crossing of borders, as it is a point where ascribed identities (that individuals assign to you) and avowed identities (what you want to be seen as) usually don’t match each other.”

Xantal and Jimena put this theory into practice by assigning identities to each of their classmates in the form of passports. Xantal and Jimena then acted like the border patrol and treated the students based on how their identities would be seen by specific border patrols.

“We did a lot of research on our side to understand how individuals had been treated in the past in order to make the activity very real,” Xantal said, “but it was amazing how such a seemingly simple activity had such a deep effect. It hit home for a lot of our classmates.”

I firmly believe that in situations where hostility is potentially high, feeling and understanding ‘the other’ experience is more effective than just thinking about it. It humanizes us.

Becoming Published Authors

Xantal and Jimena’s activity was so successful that Prof. Lawless, seeing a call for submissions from the journal, Communication Teacher, which was featuring a special issue on “Teaching Diversity in the Classroom,” asked Xantal and Jimena if she could write about it. They, of course, were more than happy to participate.

“Given my knowledge of journal conventions,” Prof. Lawless said, “Xantal and Jimena agreed that I would do the write up of the activity assessment. I met with my co-authors to brainstorm the most important parts of the activity, then, once I’d finished a draft, Xantal and Jimena reviewed it, added information, and edited. They had final approval on the manuscript, as well.”

The result — an article entitled, “Where Can Your Passport Take you? Teaching Citizenship, Mobility, and Identity in the Classroom” — was published in Communication Teacher in July 2016.

A Standout Accolade

“It is very uncommon to get published in a peer reviewed journal as an undergrad,” Prof. Lawless said. “This will be immensely helpful for Xantal and Jimena should they decide to apply to graduate school. It’s something that would stand out to a selection committee, especially if either of them wanted to pursue teaching.”

Although graduate school is still an option for Xantal, she is currently looking for a job in the New York area in development programs that promote peace and sustainable progress for at-risk communities. This article, she said, is a very significant part of her CV.