CCE visits the US/Mexico border

Author: Linda Spice '89

Published Date: 6/1/2016

Categories: Cross-Cultural Experience F1RST Magazine Political Science Sociology


A fence on the horizon

Students and faculty find their minds opened on a cross-cultural experience

Inside of Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport during an early January morning, a group of Carroll students sat while waiting to board the flight to Arizona. The weather outside marked the season’s coldest day yet as it dropped to a low of 1 degree. The students looked forward to the Arizona sunshine yet were nervous, not knowing what to expect, and varied in their motivations for being there.

For many, it came down to the fact that Carroll required it. They were “forced” to do it, they said, in order to graduate. And, among the many Cross-Cultural Experiences (CCEs) offered, this one fit better into many family budgets. It was that simple.

They would soon realize, however, that in learning about the debate of immigration at the U.S./Mexico border, nothing was simple. This CCE would immerse students inside the hearts and minds of the people, communities and organizations grappling head-on every day with the national immigration conflict.

“My views on immigration go to the conservative side,” said senior Joe Fabro. “I was very close-minded about it. I figured I’d get through it and eat some street tacos and go to bed at night. I find at the end of each session I’m doubting myself. More often than not, my previous ideas would win. Now I’m disregarding my own bias. For me, that’s huge. I didn’t think I’d be thinking this critically about it. The seed has been planted not to give things a basic glance.”

Before leaving for the six-day journey at the border, they had spent eight weeks, every other Wednesday, noon to 1:10 p.m., inside Rankin Hall, room 111, in the classroom of Dr. Jennifer Huck, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice. There, Huck met her group, who brought with them their diverse backgrounds and fields of study: criminal justice, special education, business and finance, psychology, exercise science, computer science and marketing. They watched videos, read a book, “Enrique’s Journey,” and quietly discussed their early thoughts on immigration.

If you look up students’ thoughts on Huck at one warns, “If you want an easy A, do not take Dr. Huck.” She has a raw passion for criminal justice and the study of it. She isn’t afraid to challenge her students.

This trip was no exception. And it did not focus only on the legal aspects of immigration. It was about understanding language, the use of words to describe people. Do we say “illegal immigrant” or would those feeling dehumanized by the criminality of that status prefer “migrant”? How do economics drive the debate of immigration? How can people legitimately gain citizenship here if the federal government’s processing of those documents is decades behind?

So many questions. So much more to know, to understand, to take back to their homes, their classrooms, their friends and families for discussion and thought.

Where Carroll had “forced” them out of the classroom on this Cross-Cultural Experience and required them to immerse themselves in an environment they knew little about, they soon used words such as “phenomenal” and “life changing” to describe the experience. It was no longer about something they had to do. Each day, it became something they wanted to do.

“I saw them go from kind of apathetic students who were engaged in a process they had to be a part of, to the end of the week, when they were caring students who understood why they, why Carroll (making air quotes with her fingers) ‘made them’ do it,” Huck said.

The 10- to 12-hour days of intense meetings with community groups, speakers and reflection of the issues before them could be overwhelming at times for students. At night, students would walk the three or so blocks toward Congress Street in downtown Tucson to socialize. Their conversations often continued over immigration, what they were learning, seeing and hearing, each bringing in his or her own values and beliefs to the conversation, some solid, some maybe shifting with new thoughts.

They strengthened bonds and formed friendships with people who had been strangers back on campus. Morning breakfasts followed with shared phone video clips of karaoke nights. Corey Hart’s 1984 hit “I Wear My Sunglasses at Night” seemed to emerge as the group’s theme song. As someone started to sing the lyrics, laughter often ensued.

Laughter. They needed it to balance an otherwise emotionally charged week spent trying to understand immigration, trying to come to terms with what they thought they knew. Their CCE journey included a walk among the rocks and cacti in the Arizona desert along the migrant trail. They visualized the miles and challenges that stand before those who make the treacherous journey from Mexico to the U.S. border. They visited the border, looking to the high steel beams that make up the wall separating the two countries in that area. They visited the U.S. District Court, District of Arizona, and saw first-hand.

the faces of those who made it to the U.S. but were captured, detained and now shackled as they prepared to be deported.

They realized this was more than a political issue and economic issue. It is also a human issue, forcing some to grapple with what they had only known by reading or seeing in the media. For others, it strengthened their convictions for immigration reform.

“It broadened my view, the economic, the human aspect. What I appreciate the most is the ability to see and hear things first-hand,” said junior Jeremy Welch.

They gathered on their final day for reflection, sitting together one last time before heading back to Milwaukee. Here, senior Lisa Zick told the group, “All of the experiences I’ve had, getting to know all of you, I feel like I’m evolving into this new me because of it all.”

Senior Mike Lachenschmidt said, “A lot of emotion. Happiness, sadness, and tears. I didn’t expect to feel everything I felt. Before I felt (the CCE) was a money grab. I was really questioning why we had to do this but this experience was well worth it and something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”

The Teacher’s Journey

The best effort Jenni Huck could muster to push herself to travel out of her Midwest comfort zone involved a couple of low-key spring break trips to Arizona, Florida and New York during her student days at Carroll. She grew up in a Wisconsin family that didn’t really leave the state. So the prospect of going abroad as an undergrad was, simply put, scary.

“I hardly ever looked into it. I thought it would be dauntingly expensive. It interested me, but not enough to get over the fear of doing it,” she said.

Now 37, Huck graduated from Carroll in 2001. She married in 2005 and honeymooned in Maine, again remaining within the United States. She earned her master’s of science degree from UW-Milwaukee in 2006 then her Ph.D. in criminology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2011. While living in Pennsylvania, she began to appreciate the value of travel a bit more, journeying to the east coast, California and, finally, for four brief days, out of the country, to Canada.

Huck came back to Carroll in 2011, this time as Dr. Jennifer Huck, assistant professor of sociology and criminology. By then, Carroll had committed itself to the idea that every student would study off campus in a Cross-Cultural Experience, or CCE, as part of their graduation requirements. It was a bit of a second chance for Huck, now being part of a faculty charged with leading cultural experiences amid travel, and, ultimately, living out Carroll’s mission of being a lifelong learner to boot.

The CCE program provides students with domestic and international options, two-credit and four-credit courses (which some alumni would recognize as the NCEP, New Cultural Experiences Program), and study abroad. Students prepare for the experience through cross-cultural classes and then travel to experience and apply what they have learned. It is not enough to just read about it in a book.

“Understanding other people. Being in an environment, learning to figure it out. Their initial resistance is part of it, part of the learning experience,” said Dr. Joanne Passaro, Carroll provost and vice president of academic affairs. “Students that I have seen when we read their reflection essays are extremely grateful and proud, even personally, not just to Carroll, and talk about the change it made in them as people.”

It was clear to Passaro in her first year at Carroll—2007—that the university needed to revise its General Education curriculum. Faculty design teams discussed how to develop a curriculum that would have culture and cultural differences as its linking thread from freshman to senior year. Carroll didn’t want that General Education to stop after sophomore year, as is the case with many universities, Passaro said. Carroll very intentionally built a senior-year course termed Global Perspectives Colloquium, where students from multiple disciplines engage in critical reading and discussion following their immersion experiences.

“They didn’t know that it would really work. It was very expensive, very ambitious to go from zero to one hundred percent •

to try to require every student to travel somewhere in the course of their education,” Passaro said. “It worked.”

The CCE has three components in the four-year framework: preparation, immersion and reflection. One thing that sets it apart from other universities’ travel programs is that it has to be credit bearing, said Dr. Ellen Barclay, associate dean and director of Carroll’s General Education Program.

Of course, students have different reasons for wanting to travel, so Carroll allows flexibility in immersive travel, offering study abroad, faculty-led, faculty-supported (faculty teaches a course but doesn’t travel with the student) and international volunteer courses. Students may also opt to complete their requirement locally, allowing them to volunteer for service in a cross-cultural setting. There is also a self-designed option so a student can do his or her own experience and come to a faculty committee to obtain approval.

Beyond the personal growth gained through a CCE experience, the benefits continue long after Carroll, Barclay said, in terms of ability to effectively interact in the workplace. She said employers want students who are able to function on their own, that are independent and mature, that have problem-solving skills and can work together as part of a group.

Barclay, who herself has led two CCE groups to the Yucatan, added, “All of these things are critical to the CCE. But more important in this era of multinational and international companies, companies want students who are not afraid to go somewhere and to work with others who are different from them, and work effectively so that our graduates aren’t making cultural blunders or misunderstanding based on a too narrow view of the world.”

Huck’s return to Carroll had come at a time when a fellow faculty member Dr. Rebecca Imes, associate professor of communication, was developing a partnership between the university and the Arizona-based BorderLinks organization to study immigration issues at the Mexico border. She encouraged Huck to join a delegation of 10 faculty and staff who would travel to the border to determine the possibility of creating a CCE program there.

It was her first real immersion experience. She admits she is a person who likes to be in her “own little space.” Traveling with nine other people she didn’t really know moved her out of her space. It made her quickly foster relationships, appreciating the personal connections beyond the immersion experience and cultural knowledge gained. She knew she wanted the same for students and now pushes them hard to explore the world in a way she never did while she was an undergraduate at Carroll.

“Now looking back, I wish somebody was pushing me out the door,” Huck said. “I think that I would have seen the value in it quicker. I would have gotten out of the fear quicker. I would have appreciated it if somebody would have said, ‘Get out to go see the world. Experience something. You’re getting credit for it. Go do it’.”

She took in the delegation experience in 2012 and was ready to offer the same for students interested in exploring immigration issues. The university developed the CCE and Huck’s time to lead it finally came in 2016. Eighteen students registered, prepared to engage in a timely topic amid a heated U.S. presidential race.


A month after her return from the Arizona/Mexico CCE, Huck sat in the lower level of her home, connected her television to YouTube and started a three-hour visual journey of images, sound and reflections that her students each shared in individual, final assignments. Videos and PowerPoint presentations tied into an emotional rubric hit all of the assignment details but ended up as so much more. The CCE was over, graduation requirement fulfilled. The experience, though, would last for years.

“Watching their videos showed me that this was something that I think changed every one of their lives,” Huck said. “I think this is the type of immersion experience where they are going to take something serious away from it and know that being apathetic consumers isn’t going to work.”

“Whether it’s about immigration or not, what they are going to take from it is the ability to have these tough conversations,” she continued. “That’s what the CCEs should be about.”

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