Heated debate over mock wall divides students: Students for Social Justice erect mock border wall to highlight human rights issue of immigration

April 14th, 2016


On Tuesday, April 12, a debate broke out concerning the mock border wall outside of the D.J. Lombardo Student Center. The Students for Social Justice (SSJ) have occupied the steps outside of the D.J. Lombardo Student Center and the Grasselli Library in the hopes of educating the campus about immigration reform. The organization has created a mock border wall that highlights human rights issues surrounding the topic of immigration.


On Tuesday evening, two students wrote, “Trump 2016” in chalk in front of the wall and Donald Trump campaign signs were attached to the fence. A student then poured a water bottle on the chalk words, and others then began spitting on the wall. Students gathered on either side of the wall and began voicing their political views. Sophomore Dante Palmieri said, “I’m glad that students are voicing their opinions. They can build a fence, and it is someone else’s right to write ‘Trump’. [Otherwise], it’s a double standard.”


Freshman Katie Atkins said in response to the students who were against the wall, “The way they are handling it is immature and unprofessional. [We need to] sit down and work something out but people like them are not willing to compromise.”


wall for real

Marketing chair of the African American Alliance (AAA), Brittney Seals said on behalf of AAA, “We stand in solidarity with the Latin American Student Association (LASA) and SSJ. We do not condone in libel, slander, hate speech, or aggressive derogatory discussion.”


President of LASA, junior Carlos Cruz said, “We know it’s a sensitive topic. I’m here to support SSJ and go about this in a more face to face type of way against Trump supporters. Trump has said insulting things about the Latino community. We will be here all night and we want to make a change. You have a constitutional right to be racist but you will deal with the consequences by that community. We are not backing down.”


The wall features information about migrant trails, the current immigration system, reasons for immigration, and the treatment of immigrants in the United States. The project is focusing primarily on the experiences of immigrants from Central America and Mexico. The goal is to raise awareness and start a conversation about a controversial issue.


SSJ is made up of several different committees related to various social justice issues. This year, the committees wanted to participate in a project where all of the groups could work together. After learning about the Keynote Border Initiative, an organization that works with migrants at the border, from adviser Margaret Finucane, members of the group became interested in issues of refugees and migrants.


Grace Donnelly, a member of the SSJ executive board was inspired to research this topic after meeting people on an Immersion trips to El Salvador and Nicaragua who had been previously undocumented.


She also heard about other schools that had put up similar mock border walls in an attempt to start a discussion on campus about the need for immigration reform and a need to humanize immigration.


“It is such a big political issue. It is very controversial and people have very polarizing opinions about it so, we wanted to put the facts out there, but then at the same time, use our campus setting and our Jesuit values to humanize immigration,” said Donnelly. “The whole wall is positive. We put it in a very inconvenient spot for a reason because we want to stop people in their tracks and get them to think,” she said.


SSJ hopes the wall can answer questions students have about the migrant experience, why migrants are forced to leave their homes and go on the migrant trail.


Donnelly emphasized the importance of John Carroll being a Jesuit school based in teachings of social justice. “Particularly in light of the election and the rhetoric that we have seen politicians use that is very prejudiced.


These politicians are taking away the humanity from immigrants and attempting to use violent and prejudiced language to drum up people’s emotions, and rally people towards a cause that at its face is prejudiced and inhumane,” said Donnelly. “We want to have a conversation about that.”


Through dialogue, SSJ wants to change the language used on campus. Sophomore and executive board member Emilie Christie expressed her frustration about some of the negative reactions the group has received.


“We live in a John Carroll bubble. Nobody here experiences what it’s like to live in a situation of extreme violence, to move across several different countries to try to have some sort of hope for a life in the future, to reach border patrol and be treated like you’re not a human and to run into more violence and more danger. We just want people to realize that there’s much more to the issue of migration than is often used in the political rhetoric,” Christie said.


“The thing that is most rewarding is seeing people who are actually reacting to it. Whether it is negative or positive there is going to be a conversation on this campus about immigration and hopefully someone’s life is going to get better because of it,” said Christie.


“Our community needs to come together and recognize that we can’t support violent and prejudice language like this and we need to be more open and understanding,” said Donnelly.


“We expected to get a lot of pushback. I’m pretty disappointed in students and the people that are hiding behind Yik Yaks. But from face to face interaction and students at the wall or that have come up to us, we have gotten a pretty good response. We’ve heard conversations started so it’s done what we want it to do. We want to push them to feel uncomfortable for having closed minded opinions,” Donnelly said in response to the negative comments.


On Tuesday evening SSJ member. sophomore, Emily Christie, was planning on setting up a documentary screening in conjunction with the wall and said she felt attacked when students gathered in protest.


“Although I’m not part of SSJ, I commend them for bringing a real problem plaguing the US political and social scene to John Carroll, and with it, the very difficult discourse surrounding immigration. This is a real world issue with implications that effect real people, and it needs to be discussed on our campus if we are to be preparing students for lives outside JCU,” said senior Mark Smithhisler.


He continued, “I, personally, stood behind the wall in solidarity with SSJ for about a half hour and witnessed some really great discourse as well as some not so great.”


Donnelly  believes that as long as people are educating themselves on the reality of immigration they will be able to see through the inaccuracies.


Patricia Flores, the former president of LASA, said “I never thought I was going to have to stand in the cold in solidarity for those who do not have a voice, who do not have the same rights we do against my peers screaming, spitting and kicking at the fence.”


LASA, as well as SSJ members, occupied the areas near the walls outside of the atrium overnight on Tuesday evening. “It’s going to be far from over,” said Cruz.