The Journalist Uncategorized

Immigrants speak out on systemic racism

Belleville, IL — Recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program won a long fought case earlier this week when the Supreme Court decision on June 18th was announced in their favor. Less than one week later, at least one dreamer is fighting for “black lives” in a protest-filled world.

Karla Robles is a teacher and tennis coach at Palatine High School just a few miles south of Chicago. Robles has spent years fighting for the rights of her students, teaches five Spanish classes, and has worked hard to create an inclusive educational environment. She is also a recipient of the Obama era DACA program. Students get to hear her story in their classes, Robles said, and connect with her in an inclusive classroom environment.

After the decision was handed down last week, Robles and many other DACA recipients, often called “dreamers” were asked to speak on the effect that this opinion would have on their lives. Now, Robles is speaking on black lives, and the issue of police brutality in America in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Here in Southern Illinois, college administrators who work with students found themselves making similar conclusions. Lisa Gines is a former coordinator for Greenville University Pathways, an intensive English program for international and non-native speakers entering collegiate study. She says that even in her limited social interactions with those student groups that included DACA recipients, they noticed systemic issues flourishing on their small campus.

“I have had interactions with international students and with minority students who expressed surprise and concern over law enforcement ‘norms’ and frustration over a couple specific experiences,” Gines said in a text response.

These experiences and negative environments, she noted, are indicative of issues with retention for international and immigrating students.

“Despite the school’s official stance and student groups such as MOSAIC [a program headed by the school’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion] and the Black Student Union, the campus culture is not welcoming to everyone. It was a running undercurrent in every conversation with black students and with most of my own peers at the school,” Gines said.

She also said that the institution did very little to address these issues, and that migrating and non-native students have often viewed addressing systemic issues and inequality as vital. “From my vantage point, social justice is not a priority at Greenville [University]. And the students absolutely see that. They feel it,” she said.

Janika Grimlund, a research assistant with Washington University’s CUDDLE program in St. Louis, Mo., studies the effect that racial disparities have on children, women, and pregnancy. She agreed with Gines’ assessment that the effects of social inequality are felt by all communities, and sees that truth reflected in scientific research.

“Trauma is the neurological manifestation of autonomy being taken away. Trauma is what our brain looks like when the world proves that it is not safe and will not meet our needs,” she said. “When any person (regardless of race) has prolonged exposure/experience of their needs not being met their brain literally grows to believe that their needs will never be met and put their body into an eternal state of panic.”

Grimlund indicated that racial issues manifest as a type of trauma, and also acknowledges that having access to necessary resources is crucial to overcoming various aspects of systemic racism.

“For 41% of the black children in IL (those who live in concentrated areas of poverty), this means that while their amygdala is doing a great job of trying to keep them safe,” Grimlund said, “…Their prefrontal cortex is being damaged by all of the stress hormones.”

To solve this problem and help alleviate this damage, Grimlund proposed a simple solution:

“A brain can’t grow and learn if a child is not…. safe, fed, healthy, and free,” she said.

She asks that citizens be active in responding to what causes racism, rather than providing mitigating solutions, and recognizes that for the DACA recipients discussed in this story, safety and freedom aren’t always accessible.

For students learning Spanish in Palatine High School, and community members interacting with immigrants and people of color, Robles has another solution in activism. Robles wants members of her community to be conscious of systemic racism, and to fight for justice on the streets and in the ballot box, because access to these resources is often determined by elected officials.

This project was completed in my role as a Graduate student in Georgetown University’s Master’s Degree in Journalism from the School of Continuing Studies.

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