Students of Spanish Composition this semester are about to launch their service-learning project, which is centered around an immigration reform bill called the Develop, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act or “DREAM” Act.
The classes have teamed up with other student organizations like the Diversity Center, OLAS, Crossroads and Spanish Club to provide the campus community with a full spread of events for the week of Oct. 3 through 7 to educate and foster dialogue about the potential passage of the bill.
The week will start off Monday, Oct. 3 with students tabling outside Evelyn Young Dining Hall, providing educational materials to students and faculty about what the DREAM Act is and how they can support it. Petitions and letters to send to members of congress will also be available for people to sign.
There will be a film showing Thursday, Oct. 6 in Confer 127. The film, entitled, Papers will be followed by a discussion led by Rev. Gutterman, Volunteer Liaison to Faith Communities from The Advocates for Human Rights based out of Minneapolis, Minn.
The week’s activities will wrap-up with a homily given by Senior Sociology and Anthropology and Political Science Major Irma Marquez and First-year Antonio Gomez during the Friday morning Chapel Service.
Professors of Spanish Mayra Taylor and Maria Kalbermatten, who teach the two sections of the class, chose the DREAM Act as their service-learning focus for this semester, because they felt students would be able to connect with the issue since the legislation is geared towards undocumented, college-aged students who are seeking higher education opportunities.
“We were looking for a service-learning project that was meaningful to the students; something that they could identify with. We thought the DREAM Act was something close to home [and is a topic] they could really be empathetic about,” Taylor said.
“There are people who have graduated from Gustavus and haven’t been able to get jobs or pursue graduate school, because they don’t have legal status,” Taylor said.
Although both professors stand behind the DREAM Act, they do not force the students to participate in the outreach part of the project if they are opposed to it.
“We don’t force the students [to participate]. If they feel they don’t agree with the law, they can talk with us and decide not to take part in the outreach,” Kalbermatten said.
The DREAM Act also ties well with the text the students are reading for the class; a novel entitled Cajas de Cartón (The Circuit) by Fransisco Jiménez, which tells the story of a young boy who crosses the border from Mexico and works as an undocumented migrant worker.
“We thought that was a good opportunity for students to learn about the DREAM Act and compare the situations [between the book and current events,]” Taylor said.
In addition to the novel, students are reading other contemporary news articles and other texts related to the topic.
Students have enjoyed the opportunity to learn about Latino culture through a service-learning lens.
“Learning about the culture is equally as important as learning the language,” Sophomore Pyschology Major Zeynep Tuzcu said. “You need to be culturally aware in order to appreciate the language.”
Both professor Taylor and Kalbermatten said that service-learning is an over-arching goal for the entire department this year, and other classes are engaging in projects with the broader Latino community of St. Peter.
“It’s important that [students] know that there are people in the St. Peter community and at Gustavus who would benefit from the DREAM Act,” Taylor said.
Students who hadn’t heard of the bill before this semester expressed feelings of surprise upon learning about the DREAM Act.
“They were sort of shocked when they realized they haven’t known anything about this huge issue. But once they heard the stories, saw the films and learned about these people, they couldn’t believe this is happening right here around them. It really makes a huge impact on them,” Taylor said.
Those involved in the project hope that they will gain support for the bill and that it will encourage dialogue about the DREAM Act both on campus and in the wider community.
“We hope that [those who engage in the project] will be advocates of the cause, help educate other students and maybe relate this topic to other classes,” Taylor said.