Friday April 21, 2017

UD co-hosts Voices of the Immigrant Experience

The community event, Voices of the Immigrant Experience, was recently co-hosted at the University of Dayton (UD) in collaboration with Welcome Dayton. This panelist style outreach program is a signature event held once a month as an opportunity to build support and knowledge around immigration experiences in our community. The event was held on Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at the KU Torch Lounge and Dr Theo Majka, a Professor of Sociology, assisted in the coordination of this event by working with various departments and offices at UD to co-sponsor the event.

Welcome Dayton does not host the Voices of the Immigrant Experience independently, they require a co-host for the event. Melissa Bertolo, the Program Coordinator for Welcome Dayton shared, “by asking others to host, we are able to go deeper into the community to engage those who may not already be favorably inclined towards the topic of immigration.” The departments at the University of Dayton wanted the theme of this experience to reflect people who were impacted by the recent Executive Order. For each event, panelists are chosen to speak depending on what unique issues or countries the co-sponsor wants represented. This panel was comprised of panelists that migrated to the Greater Dayton region from Libya, Mexico, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Past co-host locations have included different venues within Dayton like high-schools, churches, and universities.

Melissa designed the Voices of the Immigrant Experience with the help of a former graduate student from UD. As the host, Melissa initiates the event by asking the panel of immigrants or refugees to share their personal experiences based on the questions being asked which relate to the theme. Melissa expressed that “sharing personal experiences can be influential to someone to become more open and welcoming towards immigrants.” Panelists were asked questions regarding experiences of culture shock in the United States, as well as how to balance cultural identity and adjustment. The second portion of the evening focused on building participation with audience members by breaking into small groups to generate discussion of how citizens of the United States can be accepting and provide fair services to immigrants that reside in Dayton.

The purpose of the event, as Melissa states, is to “change hearts and minds of people” towards the concept of immigration, understand the push and pull factors that cause people to migrate across international borders and explain the positive effects that immigration can have on our economy and society. She introduced the concept of migration as a natural human experience, and related this idea to the audience by stating that students traveled to the University of Dayton, across state and local borders, to receive a higher education. Dr. Theo Majka shared, “the idea of this event is to introduce immigrants living in our community and demonstrate that they can share the same familial and individual values and aspirations as others in the Dayton community.” Melissa expressed that immigration can be viewed in the same light as migration, the only difference being the travel across an international border.

The Voices of the Immigrant Experience reflects Welcome Dayton’s efforts to ‘promote immigrant integration into the greater Dayton region. Due to the large participating audience at this event, Melissa and Dr. Majka plan to hold this event again in the fall-- with aspirations to include international students in the upcoming panel. Students, faculty or staff that wish to become involved with Welcome Dayton are encouraged to subscribe to their newsletter and visit their website to explore the various initiatives that are available through their ambassador program.

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