Border Studies Program


  • We are still accepting applications for the Spring 2015 Border Studies Program! The deadline for applying is October 17, 2014. Apply now!
  • The BSP is excited to announce that we have new staff and family member, Alisha Vasquez! Read her bio and a brief Q&A here!
  • Maddie Taterka, Contributing Editor for Autostraddle and Fall 2012 BSP Alum, recently published a piece on the detention of child migrants in Arizona.
  • Spring 2014 Border Studies Program alum Alex Cook is working this summer with migrant advocacy group Migrant Justice. Read about his work with the Vermont based organization here.
  • Marcos Ramos, Earlham grad and Spring 2013 BSP alum is spending his summer in his native Brazil after having won a Davis Project for Peace Grant for his project “Navigating Discourses of Sexuality: Resistance to Homophobia in Brazil”. Read more here.
  • Read the participants' updates from the Borderlands and follow their experiences throughout the semester at our Border Studies blog.
  • Read BSP Instructor Katie Sharar's piece for NACLA's Border Wars blog on immigration enforcement in Texas' Big Bend region.
  • Click below to check out our Facebook & Twitter pages and follow what the BSP is currently up to!
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Participant Profiles | Where Are They Now

Where do Border Studies participants attend school?

Students from the following colleges and universities have participated in the program: Anderson, Antioch, Albion, Carleton, Denison, DePauw, Earlham, Hope, Kalamazoo, Kenyon, Lewis and Clark, Macalester, Oberlin, Smith, Southwestern University, St. Olaf, Swarthmore, University of California, Vassar, Wesleyan, Western Washington University, and Wooster.

Students from all colleges and universities are eligible to apply. Please review specific policies at your university related to program approval and participation.

Is there a typical Major?

Border Studies participants represent a wide array of majors. They include: American Studies, Art, Biology, Comparative Language and Linguistics, Conflict Studies, Economics, English, Geography, History, Human Development and Social Relations, International Studies, Latin American Studies, Music, Peace and Global Studies, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Religious Studies, Sociology/Anthropology, Spanish, and Women's Studies.

Participant Profiles

Here is an opportunity to meet some of the students who have participated on the Border Studies Program:

Michelle Janke Raygada, Fall 2010 & Spring 2011Michelle

Michelle Jahnke Raygada, an Environmental Studies and Latin American Studies major at Oberlin College, participated in the fall 2010 Border Studies Program. And since she was still not ready to leave, she stuck around for the spring 2011 semester as well. I was originally drawn to the program because I was inspired by others’ stories of life-changing experiences during Border Studies and felt I was ready to have my own. I expected to grow from being immersed in social justice movements and life on the border. Though I feel I came with pretty high expectations, I still got more than I bargained for. Both semesters my field study site was Tierra y Libertad Organization (TYLO), a grassroots community organizing group. Working with them was one of the most challenging and fulfilling parts of the program. I got to be involved in many different parts of the organization, including know your rights workshops with the migrant rights campaign, learning about desert food and medicinal plants with the barrio sustainability group, helping paint a mosaic with the MAIZ art component, and learning and teaching along with everyone in the youth Freedom School program. Through TYLO I have become integrated in the Tucson social justice movement in a way I did not know would be possible. And I’ve also been able to convivir with a vibrant Tucson community, one that has become like another home to me. I also got to live with the same host family for both semesters. Rosalva, my host mother, is a strong, inspiring, caring woman who taught me something every day I spent with her. Living and learning with her has been incredibly important to my growth on the Border Studies Program. The Border Studies teachers are incredible. Without them I would not have been able to feel so comfortable settling into Tucson the way I have and I definitely would have had struggled much more to connect the many lessons of this experience. A year in the borderlands has challenged me to think more deeply about myself: my identity, my priorities, my place in the movement; and about the world around me: not only immigration policies but also how they connect to our local, national and international relations, the relationship betweens humans and the planet we live on, the social and economic structure of our communities and our world. In addition, it has given me hope in the power of coming together creatively imagine and build more just, holistic, dignified, fulfilling ways of life. Mostly it has shown me how the seemingly disparate issues I’ve faced here on the border are all connected and are present everywhere. And it has helped me find the strength to speak these truths and challenge unjust structures wherever I may go.

Sonia Lauer, Spring 2009

Sonia LauerSonia Lauer is a recent graduate of Lewis and Clark College. I chose to do the Border Studies Program the last semester of college and am so happy I made that decision. The Border Studies Program taught me skills I had not learned at Lewis and Clark or on my other semester abroad in Havana, Cuba. I liked that the semester let the six participants explore one issue in its entirety. Along with economics, history and research methodology I felt that the program taught me how to be an effective activist. This to me was the most valuable part of my entire college education. During my time in Tucson I worked with the Southside Day Labor Center where I taught English classes and did a variety of other jobs that needed to be done. My research paper was on how social networks are used by day laborers in distributing information about local resources. Favorite activities: ultimate frisbee and climbing. I now live in Eugene, Oregon and am an AmeriCorps Volunteer working on foreclosure prevention. I have been trying to continue the border work with presentations and dialog around Eugene about my experiences. The zine that the Spring '09 group compiled and our powerpoint discussing the myths of migration have been very helpful resources in my presentations.

Alice Ollstein, Spring 2009

Alice OllsteinAlice Ollstein has found her calling as a journalist, focusing on underreported issues in Latin America. She joined the 2009 Spring Border Studies program in order to immerse herself in an area full of complex problems that she feared she may not otherwise ever fully grasp even as a Los Angeles native growing up just a few hours away from the border. "I originally signed up for Border Studies because I thought becoming an expert on the border would make me more hireable as a reporter," she said, "but I never expected that my activist side would also be touched.

For her field study, Alice worked at Samaritans, a humanitarian aid organization focused on patrolling the desert in search of migrants in medical distress. At Samaritans, she regularly attended the organization's meetings and went on several desert patrols each week. Her main duty was going on the patrols, which always need more people and especially more Spanish speakers, and helped the organization by researching how the Samaritans could work more effectively with reporters to get more and better coverage in the media.

On the side, she volunteered at the radio station Arizona Public Media, learning radio reporting and getting two pieces on the air. Between this and her work with the Samaritans, she struggled-and continues to struggle-with balancing activism with balanced reporting. Since the program, Alice has been working hard to contribute to better news coverage of migration issues. She was also hired by the LA newspaper "La Opinión," where she had the opportunity to interview Luis Alberto Urrea about his new book and her article covering the criminalization of humanitarian aid work on the border made the front page.

When she's not improving the fate of journalism, she enjoys cooking vegetarian dishes, salsa and tango dancing, reading reading reading and collecting vintage hats. She recommends the Border Studies Program to those who want to get out of their comfort zone, physically, academically and emotionally, because "the majority of the U.S. is so distant from the realities of the border that we have to learn how to meaningfully bring those realities to them by having direct experiences and learning how to articulate them."

Itzel Garcia-Mejia, Fall 2008

Itzel Garcia-MejiaItzel "Jackie" Garcia-Mejia, a History and Latin American Studies major at Oberlin College, chose the Border Studies Program so that she could fulfill her dream of simultaneously living, working, and studying in Mexico. Itzel explained that through the various changes in the structure of the program, she was confronted with a different opportunity: to reevaluate her identity as a Mexicana in the context of current immigration laws and common stereotypes on both sides of the border.

Itzel participated in the fall 2008 Border Studies program, which divided the semester between living in Tucson and spending time in Nogales, Sonora. In Tucson, Itzel worked at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) where she helped a surveying initiative in the Latino community on the E-Verify laws. The information gathered (mainly what people knew about the law, how they had heard about it, and whether they or someone they knew had experienced abuse as a result of this law) was later put into a report that will be given out to other states where this law may be applied in the future. In Nogales, Itzel worked at the Mariposa Aid Station where she helped prepare meals, fold and sort laundry, clean the eating and kitchen area, and help guide migrants in need of medical care to the Red Cross trailer located in the camp.

"The most meaningful part of the program was having the opportunity to provide direct aid to other Mexicanos y Mexicanas who were making a journey that resembles closely to my own family. " She also explained that being surrounded by the fabulous group of BSP students made the experience unforgettable. "The emotional support they gave was crucial to my experience."

Itzel is back at Oberlin now, and she is taking a history class on the US-Mexico border to further her institutional education in this subject matter. The BSP girls from Oberlin have also gotten together to produce a zine on issues and topics related to the US-Mexico border. Inspired by the positive impact of humanitarian aid organizations through the US-Mexico borderlands, Itzel plans to return to the borderlands region after graduation and spend a year there before heading off to graduate school. "My ideal career path has definitely been influenced by the Border Studies Program.

Eric Holman, Fall 2008

Eric HolmanEric Holman, a Spanish and Hispanic Studies major at Earlham College, was inspired to participate in the Border Studies Program by many of his friends and peers who were profoundly affected after retuning from the program. While he saw their academic will strengthen and their inquisitions deepen, he was the most influenced by how students returning from the program seemed to purely love learning. Eric joined the program in the fall of 2008 hoping to have the same kind of transformational experience.

Eric participated in the Border Studies first semester at the new site in Tucson, Arizona. For his field study, Eric worked at Samaritans, a humanitarian aid organization focused on patrolling the desert in search of migrants in medical distress. At Samaritans, he regularly attended the organization's meetings and went on weekly desert patrols. His main duty was working with the migrant property return project, coordinating with public defenders and Samaritans constituents in the southern Arizona borderlands and northern Sonora to match belongings of detained migrants to their repatriated port of entry. When he returned from the program, Eric spent his winter break volunteering with Maine Immigrant Services.

For Eric, the highlight of the program was his fellow participants. "Every time the group was together was a relief," he said. Eric believed the program leaders did an excellent job at fostering a great group dynamic; however, it was the special group of people whom he believes naturally evolves from the type of student who self-selects this program that stands out in his many memories of his semester in the borderlands.

Eric will graduate from Earlham this coming May, and when asked if the program will influence his career and/or plans after graduation he said, "most positively." He hopes to enter immigrant advocacy work in his home state of Maine. Eric says that his friends at Samaritans taught him that doing immigrant advocacy without getting burned out is possible. They also taught him that experiencing the reality of the borderlands and not responding directly to it is very difficult. "Samaritans and the Border Studies Program showed me that I can do this kind of work as my career."

Ginger Leigh, Fall 2007

Ginger LeighGinger Leigh, an American Studies major and 2008 graduate of Earlham College, participated in the program in the fall of 2007.

I am only beginning to realize how deeply the Border Studies Program affected my life. I left that place, the Border, with all its contradictions and confrontations, and could not imagine how I would metabolize all that I had seen and experienced. I learned about the long tenure of questionable U.S. policies and the hemorrhaging of Mexico's population seeking economic asylum, lived with a family who welcomed me into their home and cared for me more attentively than I have ever known, and worked in a detention center where I met and worked with scores of kids who had just been deported from the U.S. The semester was full with the flurry of a new place, new friends, and new frameworks, and I left without a clue that in a few months I would be plagued with the nagging need to return to the detention center after my graduation.

So here I am, graduating and dropping all plans for grad school for now to go back to Albergue Bolivia (the detention center) on a whim because I think that no matter how complicated my presence there might be, kids deserve to have a childhood filled with the magic of learning to read, to write, to create, to imagine. I am currently in the grant writing stage of an educational project for unaccompanied minors designed to incorporate the learning of practical skills to avoid workplace exploitation (like simple math and English), the fostering of creative expression about their lives, loves and losses, and emotional support for kids, some of whom have been to hell and back. What lies on the border is a complicated world filled with questions, some answers, privilege, history and a future that is yet to be determined. What do I understand to be my experience on the Border? Well, it's not over yet.

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