This fall, the Gainesville community is gathering together to discuss international immigration policy through art.
To encourage this dialogue, Will Hasty, a professor at UF in the department of languages, literatures and cultures, organized the program called The Future of Freedom and Walls in Europe and Globally, a collaboration of faculty and students.
The program discussing the building of literal and figurative border walls around the world included a film festival, student projects and a speech given by a guest speaker, former vice president of the European Commission Günter Verheugen.
The Future of Freedom and Walls in Europe and Globally was funded by a $9,000 grant from the German embassy in Washington D.C.
In 2009, Hasty organized Freedom Without Walls, a program on the University of Florida’s campus to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which served as an inspiration for this year’s event.
The reason Hasty organized the program in 2009 was to celebrate a future without border walls, but he said the topic has recently regained relevance.
“There was perhaps an elated sense of the possibilities of a world without limits, without so many limits,” Hasty said. “And now, we seem to be seeing that it’s not quite so simple. There seems to be contrarian movements, movements back in the direction of nationalism, movements back in the direction of walls.”
In the ongoing program The Future of Freedom and Walls in Europe and Globally, students and faculty members are reassessing the perspective the group had on immigration and walls in 2009.
“‘Freedom Without Walls,’ that sounds great,” Hasty said. “Is it possible? I’m tempted to say no, but at the same time, I’m tempted to say walls don’t have to be threatening either.”
He said he wants the community to try addressing questions such as, “if walls are inevitable, what are the best walls to have?” “What kind of walls can we have and at the same time have the most freedom?” “Are walls we build to keep people out likely to stabilize things?” and “What is it that we could be doing globally to build strong, good neighbors?”
Hasty expects that this program will help build a more tolerant, respectful community through discourse and art.
“I would like people to be thinking and talking about walls creatively,” Hasty said, “but also knowledgably.” Students and faculty members consider walls as more than a dividing structure, but also as a platform for art installations, surface for film screenings and canvas.
Part of the program included students completing projects that examined walls in different ways. Rafael Pimentel, a third-year economics student at UF, explored walls as art for his project.
Pimentel created a display that used plastic flowers in the shape of sunrays to represent the immigrants restricted by border walls. His goal entering the program was to learn more about how policy affects immigrants. He immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic in 2008, so he feels a special connection to the global immigrant population.
Pimentel’s project partner Mica Wiley, a third-year international studies student at UF, found the film series portion of the program to be the most enlightening.
“They kind of open your eyes to what it’s like to work as an immigrant,” Wiley said.
Another participant in The Future of Freedom and Walls in Europe and Globally, Nina Erwin, a second-year material science student, examined walls as testimonials in her project about the Berlin Wall.
Erwin’s own grandfather moved from East to West Germany during the Cold War, so she said she has a personal connection to the project.
The Future of Freedom and Walls in Europe and Globally is a unique opportunity for students to think globally, said Akíntúndé Akínyẹmí, the chair of the department of languages, literatures and cultures at UF.
Akínyẹmí’s department is collaborating on the program alongside the department of Spanish and Portuguese studies, the Center for European Studies, the UF International Center and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Discussing global affairs outside of the classroom can be especially enlightening for students, he said.
“It is helpful because it is an opportunity for our students to be exposed to the political situation outside of the U.S.,” he said. “It helps them be more critical in their thinking.”
Because this program has been so successful, Akínyẹmí said he hopes to see more like it at UF in the future.
“We should go global,” he said. “We should have more programs like this.”
Ultimately, he said the students involved with programs like The Future of Freedom and Walls in Europe and Globally have to take these opportunities to expand their education so that more programs can follow. These are the experiences that shape students’ studies and career paths, he added.
“We can only hope that our students, as future leaders, will take opportunities like this seriously.”