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ND forum elicits interest

Brian McKenzie | Friday, October 5, 2007

Four high-profile leaders will speak Monday at the Notre Dame Forum on immigration, but while students say they are interested in the topic, few have demonstrated a desire to get involved.

More than two thirds of 150 students interviewed for this story said they were either “very interested” or “interested” in the immigration debate. Political psychology professor Darren Davis said Notre Dame students are influenced by a strong sense of social concern.

Of the interested students, nearly half said that they planned to attend the Forum, and only one in six said they did not. But less than a third had been to an immigration event in the past year.

Stanford Hall assistant rector John Fahy called interest on the immigration issue “dormant.”

“If we want students to engage this issue, we need a spark,” he said. “It’s harder to get people aware than I think it should be.”

Junior Michael Angulo, a leader of the Progressive Student Alliance, has been engaged in immigration activism since 60 Notre Dame students marched in support of nationwide protests two years ago. He said he was pleased with the level of student involvement then but said that students are “not critically engaged” outside of classes and library-based reading.

He unfavorably contrasted this year’s immigration forum with past forums on global health and religion. This forum has done “a poor job” of generating student interest, he said. He had been excited to learn that immigration had been selected as the topic this summer, but said that publicity had been “poorly planned.”

“It wasn’t until [Tuesday] that I saw forum posters,” he said. “And I’m really involved with this issue.

The Center for Social Concerns “knows how to do something like this,” he said. “The administration knows how to put together a good football weekend.”

Angulo said the forum’s Web site “looks awesome” but lacked a book list. The forum had suggested articles, he acknowledged, but he said that reading articles was “like class.”

Fahy said the forum’s publicity left room for “decent critique.” But he contrasted that with the University’s “notable effort” in printing posters for each of about 15 dorm-sponsored immigration discussions. These events are mostly unstructured, hour-long conversations with University-provided facilitators.

The event drew roughly 15 students at Stanford Hall, which Fahy considered a “great number for an unstructured, straight academic event.”

“I’m much more interested now, and I got that impression from a lot of people there,” Fahy said.

However, that interest isn’t always evident. At a Sept. 25 screening of a film on Jamaican immigration, an award-winning documentary filmmaker had an audience of only two people – both Observer staffers with assignments to cover or photograph the lecture.

Political science professor Tara Lavallee said she was encouraged the University was taking more steps to interest students in the immigration issue. She thought that it was particularly important for students to understand how the scope of immigration would affect America’s foreign policy and economy.

The U.S., she said, has a “real opportunity to increase its pluralistic character by enfranchising immigrants, within the framework of the American political system.”

Archbishop of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Sen. Melquiades Rafael “Mel” Martinez (R-Fla.), and Louis Barletta, mayor of Hazleton, Penn., will speak at Monday’s forum at 3 p.m. in the Joyce Center Arena. Ray Suarez, Jr., senior correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, will moderate the panel.