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LEADERSHIP+COLLABORATION

The teacher seeks appropriate leadership roles and opportunities to take responsibility for student learning, to collaborate with learners, families, colleagues, other school professionals, and community members to ensure learner growth, and to advance the profession.

Immigration Justice and Community Leadership:
A Multimodal Approach to Spreading Awareness, Changing Narratives, and Constructing a Framework for Activism

In the fall of 2018, I received an email forwarded from my mom. It was a forwarded message from a friend of a friend in El Paso, Texas, expressing the dire-need for short-term volunteers at shelters near the U.S.-Mexico border. Above the message, my mom wrote, "Post-Christmas?" and forwarded the message to my family. 

For one reason or another, my family members couldn't make the required two-week commitment. Christmas night, I boarded a flight to from Denver to El Paso alone. When I landed with my carry-on bag and the phone number of the nuns I would be staying with, I asked myself, Why am I here?

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At the shelter, I cleaned floors, called family members, and tried to interpret for guests at the shelter when they needed something. My role became not to make sense of the phenomenally unjust circumstances, but to embrace the menial tasks that slowly, and often, only temporarily, restored a sense of dignity to those who had been stripped of it. These families watched me transform into a waitress, a teacher, a maid, or a geographer. I watched as they remembered how to eat, how to laugh, how to ask questions. I watched as they returned, a little bit, to themselves.

At one point during my time at the shelter, the volunteer coordinator told me that the majority of people we met would be deported back to Mexico or their country of origin. My friends and family reassured me that I did the right thing upon going down to the border, but I returned to school with a sense of uneasiness, and a lingering sense of brokenness. Why am I here?

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Above: Service and Justice Experience Flyer. I handed these out at events centered around human rights and immigration justice. 

Over the next year, I didn't become any more comfortable with what I witnessed at the border. But I began to recognize this discomfort as a greater than an end. I wrote about my time at the border, recognizing that we need to remember the dignity of those migrating to the United States. (Read that story here). I talked to Villanova's service and Justice Experience program coordinator, to suggest that we work with students seek more than a week-long experience, but an introduction to what community organizing looks like. Together, after almost a year of work, we created a new program on Immigration Justice and Community Leadership in San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico. I changed our methods of advertising in order to reach a wider audience on Villanova's campus; I worked with community organizers in San Diego and Tijuana in order to create a curriculum that teaches students transferrable frameworks of community organizing and activism; we worked with the department of communication in order to find ways to promote productive and respectful dialogue, both during and after the experience. And when given the opportunity at TEDxVillanovaU, I auditioned. I worked with another student to discuss the necessity of changing the narratives surrounding immigration. 

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Above: Janel Sevilla and I concluding our talk, "Remembering the Humanity in Immigration Narratives," at TEDxVillanovaU. Access full video here

Most of the time, I have found that working against injustice means saying yes. I am not suggesting that working against injustice is simple, or that there is a clear roadmap for those looking to make the world better. Rather, I am suggesting that injustice is everywhere. Daily, we choose to run towards that injustice, or to run away from it. 

Almost two years later, I still feel ​unsettled. While people of privilege — myself included — often like to live under the false pretense that injustice is something distant and abstract, it is all around us.

I thought that being a leader would feel solid. If I found myself in a position where I am taking charge, I thought it must mean that it's because I am completely confident. While I believe in the decisions that I make, leadership is hard. And uncomfortable. And never what I anticipated it would feel like. 

But, I have learned that being a leader was never about not being afraid. It is about knowing that you are working for a purpose that is much larger than your fear. It's emailing an editor, writing, "No, I have not published before. But I think I have something important to say." It's knocking on an office door, and then saying "I think we should do something different here." It's auditioning to a room full of PhD candidates and professors with shaky hands and a 4x6 notecard. It's logging on to the very first Zoom. It's recognizing that my silence would be more comfortable, and continuing to speak anyway. It is standing at the front of the class with shaking hands and sweaty palms, wondering how this ever looked easy. It's looking at the class—my class—as the bell rings, and they expectantly turn my way. It's breathing, and with equal amounts horror and wonder, saying,"Let's begin."

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