WHERE STUDENTS ARE TEACHERS
While UC Merced has come to be considered a haven for students familiar with the trials of the immigrant experience, the faculty and students are aware that the issue of immigration is a contentious one.
Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Professor Kit Myers teaches a course titled “Race and Law,” in which he explores how social and legal constructs of race have affected American ideology, structures and lives.
One unit focuses on immigration and the myth that the United States has been a welcoming place for all immigrants.
“When we think of the students here and the cultures they’re bringing and their families and experiences and hardships, that is what really shapes our society into what it is today,” Myers said.
Myers said that while American society has been historically shaped by immigrant and refugee cultures, foods, traditions and music, the people themselves often feel excluded. At UC Merced, they are an integral part of the culture.
“I think what’s exciting about the students at UC Merced is that they really come in with a different set of purposes,” Myers said. “Many of the students who come here are first-generation or are from families of immigrants. We have students who have undocumented parents or who are undocumented themselves. With that, they bring a type of experience that is going to inform their research, what they’re involved in and the work they want to do after they graduate.”
“Then I got here, and I realized I can’t teach the same syllabus I had been, so I had to think of what types of students we have here, and it made me think more about immigration.”
-PROFESSOR WHITNEY PIRTLE
Then I got here, and I realized I can’t teach the same syllabus i had been, so i had to think of what types of students we have here, and it made me think more about immigration.
-professor whitney pirtle
While the students are learning from experts such as Wright and Meyers, their personal experiences can also help inform faculty research. Due to UC Merced’s unique position in the Central Valley, Professor Tanya Golash-Boza has been able to conduct research in the region by speaking with families who have been affected by deportation, some of which include UC Merced students.
Fellow Sociology Professor and recently appointed MacArthur Foundation Chair Whitney Pirtle came to UC Merced from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.
“The paradigm I was trained in, when it came to thinking about race and health, had typically focused on black and white disparities, which can be helpful because some of those can be the most stark,” Pirtle said. “Then I got here, and I realized I can’t teach the same syllabus I had been, so I had to think of what types of students we have here, and it made me think more about immigration.”
Pirtle now assigns articles in class she feels will resonate with UC Merced students and inspire them to consider immigration policies from a sociology standpoint. Pirtle has also conducted research on structural racism embedded in immigration policy. Pirtle credits her students with keeping her “mentally fresh” about current issues they’re facing, and said they propel her to keep broadening her own ideas of race, health and equalities.
This reciprocal relationship isn’t limited to students and faculty members at UC Merced. The goal is to equip students to learn and to share their knowledge with others. As Anna Ocegueda said of sharing her story, “I did this to inspire people and let them know that regardless of your hardships growing up, you can still do it.”
WRITTEN BY ELIZABETH ARAKELIAN
UC Merced Public Relations
Elizabeth Arakelian is a senior public information officer at UC Merced. Previously, she worked as a reporter for the Turlock Journal and a television ratings analyst for CNBC. She earned her bachelor’s in English Language Literatures from UC Santa Cruz and her master’s in journalism from New York University.