UNITEd for Immigration Justice

UNITE members at a rally

By Dakota Damschroder

“Inclusive excellence” is a term used frequently to describe Emerson’s mission of creating a welcoming campus for students of all backgrounds. One student group particularly embodies this ideal.
In the spring of 2013, several students started UNITE (Understanding National Immigration Through Education), a student group that addresses a wide variety of issues surrounding immigration. The organization grew out of the 2013 Alternative Spring Break program, run by the Office of Service Learning and Community Action (SLCA). One team of students and advisors spent a week serving the community that supports undocumented immigrants at the El Paso, Texas/ Juárez, Mexico border.

This border immersion program “sparked everything,” said UNITE’s President, Naomi Petrovsky. “We wanted to bring those experiences back so they didn’t just affect twelve people.” Students on that program were challenged by activists in El Paso to keep the spark alive by educating their communities and creating more advocates for change.

“To make a dialogue is really important,” she said, in order for UNITE to help build an inclusive and collaborative community.

UNITE has hosted various events to showcase how immigration involves a plethora of social, political, and economic issues. The group has sponsored various film screenings and a visit from Ruben Garcia, a longtime border activist who founded the Annunciation House, a shelter for undocumented immigrants in El Paso.

The organization also infuses discussions into the curriculum, either by presenting in classes or by encouraging students and professors to engage in the issues through academics. Through its curricular and co-curricular collaborations with campus departments, offices, and SGA-recognized organizations, UNITE has many allies at Emerson.

“Everyone we’ve reached out to has been so supportive and so kind,” Petrovsky says. UNITE’s success in creating conversations on campus is impressive considering it currently operates without Student Government Association (SGA) recognition, which would give the group things like funding and access to the recruitment opportunities through the annual Student Organization Fair.

UNITE has applied for recognition and awaits a decision by the SGA. Meanwhile, it operates informally and is advised by Suzanne Hinton, Director of the SLCA.

Hinton said, “Immigration is the civil rights issue of our time. It’s very encouraging that President Pelton tasked a DREAM working group to examine how Emerson could become a school that offers meaningful support for students who are undocumented and their families.”

UNITE holds weekly meetings on the 10th floor of Walker (Walker 10), where members discuss recent immigration news and organize events. Contact Petrovsky at Naomi_Petrovsky @emerson.edu if interested in attending a meeting or getting involved.

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