March 27, 2009

SMU students explore 'The Immigrant Experience' in New York

During Spring Break, 15 SMU Honors students visited New York, where they explored 130-year-old tenement rooms on the Lower East Side, staged an impromptu performance at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and traced family histories at Ellis Island.


The students toured the city as part of the Honors Cultural Formations course "The Immigrant Experience," which has focused this term on New York as a city of immigration throughout America’s history.

"The students saw firsthand what they have been reading about in class," says Caroline Brettell, Dedman Family Distinguished Professor of Anthropology in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, who teaches the course. "They experienced the rich and layered history of the city as well as its hyper-diversity. They saw the impact immigrants have on cities – how they claim space and construct neighborhoods."

SMU's Richter Fellowship Program, which has supported independent research at the University since 1999, funded the class trip as a way of getting students outside the traditional curriculum. Each student who participated will complete an independent research paper.

Ashley Michelle Howe, a sophomore geology and accounting major who participated in the trip, says a highlight was a meeting at the Rockefeller Foundation with authors the students had read during class, including anthropologist Nancy Foner and historian Donna Gabaccia. The authors discussed topics including the politics of immigration, international trends in migration and health issues among migrant workers.

In addition to their museum visits and walking tours of neighborhoods, the students had free time to explore New York’s sights, including Central Park and Broadway plays. Howe also visited the NBC Today show set, where she met weather anchor Al Roker and host Meredith Vieira.

"We learned a lot just by riding the subway," Howe says. "Watching all the different ethnicities get on and off at each stop told us quite a bit about how people are beginning to interweave themselves spatially throughout the city."

Visit to learn more about the University Honors program.

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