July 12, 2010
10-118

Kate Elliot
Communications Specialist

Building Bridges in the Borderland

VALDOSTA -- U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints interrupted the rugged limestone hills framing the highway as Dr. Tracy Woodard-Meyers drove from Texas to California last May. Her trip through the divided territory led the director of Women’s and Gender Studies to form the Borderland Cultural Immersion Experience -- a three-week living-learning encounter in El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico.

Woodard-Meyers paired with Criminal Justice Professor Dr. Shani Gray to escort five students to the world’s largest border community, where 80 percent of the population claims some Hispanic heritage. VSU students lived among migrants a mile from the U.S.-Mexico border. They listened to farm workers’ stories, attended deportation hearings, met human rights activists, and toured the Consulate General of Mexico. Living among the realities of these diverse people, students came to identify how social barriers, economics and border security impact Mexican American’s in the region.

“I thought it would be a great experience for our students since we have a large Latino/a population in this area,” said Meyers, who has been teaching at VSU since 1994. “We have all become more aware of the issues of migrant farmers in the local area -- understanding what it is like for these folks in their native country and why they want to migrate to our country for work.”

The trip exposed students to human rights and immigration issues, but excursions to historic villages and tours through natural landmarks depicted the region’s rich cultural backdrop. They traveled to Mesilla, N.M., a 1800s border town where Billy the Kid once stood trial for murder. Students studied American Indian rock paintings along the mountains of Huenco Tanks State Park; and climbed into gondolas that soared more than 200 feet above the vast canyons of the Franklin Mountains.

Meyers said 15-20 students are expected to embark on the Borderland Cultural Immersion Experience in the spring of 2011. The trip -- funded by a Quality Enhancement Plan grant -- will enable undergraduates interested in borderland issues to conduct research on how the social constructs of race, ethnicity, class and gender influence the region.

Read more about the program at www.valdosta.edu/womenstudies/U.S.-MexicoBorderIssuesCourses.shtml

Passion with a Purpose

Borderland immersion is only one of the many social justice projects Woodard-Meyers is involved with on campus and in the greater Valdosta community. For the past four years, Women’s and Gender Studies has hosted the Vagina Monologues, an episodic play performed throughout the world to raise awareness and money to combat sexual violence against women. The Valdosta show funds area charities, including The Haven and Raintree Village.

Woodard-Meyers is passionate about educating the general population about gender and inequality issue. Being aware of such social problems helps people recognize the systematic inequality that exists in all corners of the world. Her experience among immigrants has inspired research about the sexual violence and sexism experienced by female migrant farm workers. On campus, Woodard-Meyers is part of task force to rewrite the campus sexual assault policy, which the group plans to bring before the Policy on Policies Committee in the coming months.

“We live in a world where we interact on a daily basis with people who are different from us -- gender studies helps us to look at and appreciate the differences rather than negatively judge and label them as ‘less than,’ ‘not as good as,’ ‘others,’ ‘villains,’ etc.,” she said. “We spend a great deal of time looking at stereotypes and the prejudices that are produced from those stereotypes. I think we should all learn about these issues and be challenged to use our critical thinking skills to look at some of the myths and misperceptions surrounding all the categories of difference -- rather than accepting the often flawed status quo.”

Opening oneself to new perspectives is a main goal of the Women's and Gender Studies Lecture Series held each fall. Meyers said members of the university community can look forward to the following presentations:

The Role of Gender in Immigration Issues: 6:30 p.m. on September 14

West Cosgrove, director of Project Puente in El Paso, Texas, will visit VSU at to share Project Puente, which strives to build lasting relationships through educational and spiritual programming along the U.S.-Mexico border. Read more about the project at www.projectpuente.org. At 6:30 p.m. on October

Human Trafficking: 6:30 p.m. on October 11

Nola Theiss, founder and executive director of the Human Trafficking Awareness Partnership, will discuss the prevalence of human trafficking and HTAP’s efforts to build informed communities and end the cycle of violence and to eradicate this modern form of slavery. Go to http://humantraffickingawareness.com/ for more information about HTAP.

Women on Death Row and Female Prisoner’s Health Issues: November (Time TBA)

Kathleen A. O’Shea -- social worker, author, and former nun of 30 years -- will explore the mental and physical health issues of aging female death row inmates. The Pulitzer Prize nominee sees it as her mission to educate people about the human rights issues related to imprisonment.

Look for more information about the lecture series and other Women’s and Gender Studies programming at http://www.valdosta.edu/womenstudies/ .