Academic Program

“This program is life changing and something I will hold in my heart and mind forever.”~Program Participant

Border Studies was by far the best part of my Earlham experience. The program is structured in such a way that every piece of your life during the semester (from homestays to internships to classes to trips) are interconnected build on each other, and the faculty value each of those experiences as an opportunity for personal, academic, and emotional growth, rather than simply focusing on the academic side of things. I think Earlham, and higher ed generally, could grow a great deal from this approach to learning” ~Program Participant Asa Kramer-Dickie

The Border Studies Program is centered in rigorous academic work, including classroom study, meaningful community engagement, and personal experiences and reflection. You will participate in two core seminars that explore the topics of settler colonialism, approaches to decoloniality, critical race theory, queer theory, transnational feminisms, women of color and indigenous feminisms, neoliberalism, mass incarceration, environmental justice, food sovereignty, social movements, and abolition.

The program also includes a travel component, which may take you to central and southern Mexico, El Paso, and throughout the Arizona/Sonora borderlands, where you will learn from community members and organizations as well as engage in service to support grassroots efforts occurring at different sites. Furthermore, you will be immersed in an extended field study placement (internship) with one of many community organizations and schools in the Tucson area. The field studies class, which you will take in conjunction with your internship, will help you to contextualize the social justice issues that community organizations and groups contend with in the borderlands. Lastly, through the Spanish class and associated community engagement, as well as home life with host families in Tucson, you will continue to strengthen your Spanish language knowledge, practice and/or comprehension.

  • Program Courses

    The program curriculum includes four courses that together result in 18 credits:

    Movement and Movements: A Political Economy of Migration Seminar (4 credits) This class provides robust insight into the global political and economic trends that drive and condition patterns of transnational migration in North America and beyond. This biweekly seminar places current trends in historical and geographic context and considers a variety of alternatives and solutions proposed by distinct sectors of society in Mexico and the United States. Topics considered include: settler colonialism, critical race theory, immigration law, neoliberalism, mass incarceration, social movements, and border abolition. Reading assignments are designed to complement and provide background and context for the people, places, and topics approached throughout the BSP semester. (At Earlham College, this course meets a social science requirement and the Diversity–International requirement.)

    Routes y Raíces: Towards Collective Power (4 credits) To better understand the place and moment that we presently inhabit, it is important to examine it and the past both in its myriad voices and in its silences. This class engages with the histories that have shaped the economic, political, and cultural landscape of the borderlands and beyond. It is not a comprehensive history, but one chosen to highlight spaces and moments that can serve to develop critical analytical tools and challenge hegemonic and reductive narratives of the spaces we reside and move through. This class uplifts the writings of indigenous peoples, BIPOC – particularly women of color – activists, organic intellectuals, and voices from the ‘Global South.’ We will examine a number of interrelated topics and struggles, including: decoloniality, immigration, the prison-industrial complex and detention, border militarization, social and environmental movements, art, and representation. Knowledge is produced in a number of spaces, within and outside academia, and is shaped by different individual and collective experiences – so our class materials will reflect that. (At Earlham College, this course meets a social science requirement and the Diversity–Domestic requirement.)

    Español in the Borderlands (4 credits) Learning a new language — or giving priority to a language other than English — is a political act. In schools, an emphasis on non-English languages as ‘foreign’ maintains the status quo. This course will be different from other language classes you may have taken, as it will be taught through a content-based approach and will give priority to the voices of those most affected by unjust systems. We will be very intentional to learn Spanish as a language of the real people who speak it, and we will explore themes that directly relate to their experiences, as opposed to studying Spanish as a language of ‘the Other’ as is commonly done in ‘foreign’ language classes across the U.S. Through the Spanish language, we will explore certain themes of the program, such as border enforcement, neoliberalism, ethnic studies, feminism, free trade, food justice, and more. This course would not exist without the input and centering of a multitude of teachers throughout Tucson. Lastly, this course gives us the opportunity to explore together how our language(s) inform(s) how we view our own identities, our interactions with other people, and our political views. (At Earlham College, this course meets a humanities requirement.)

    Borderlands Field Study Practicum (6 credits) The Border Studies Program (BSP) engages in a pedagogical practice known as praxis, or the spaces in which contemplation and action come together. The practicum structure of this course means that, in addition to intellectual learning, students will also gain practical skills and experiences. For many students, their field-study site is one of the most enriching, thought-provoking, challenging, and informative aspects of their time in the Border Studies Program. The primary component of this course will be the eight hours that students spend every week at their field-study site. The practicum course also meets two hours a week, during which students explore themes of personal identity and social justice, engage in dialogue with community leaders from field-study sites, and collectively troubleshoot issues that arise. The culmination of the field-study practicum is a required 10-to-15-page auto-ethnography, discussing pertinent experiences at the organization as viewed in a self-reflective analysis of your role and positionality(-ies) at the site.

    For more information on the internships and field studies sites please check out the Supervised Field Study Page

  • Language Learning

    The borderlands is a multilingual region, which presents rich opportunities for linguistic and cultural immersion. You will no doubt hear Spanish, English, and Spanglish being spoken regularly, in addition to O’odham and Yoeme. The Border Studies Program offers ample opportunity for exposure to the Spanish language through the Spanish Language Program, travel, and the homestay. Additionally, each academic course incorporates readings and/or guest speakers in Spanish, and several of the program’s weekly activities incorporate Spanish as well.

    The Border Studies Spanish Program includes three components:

    • Español in the Borderlands meets weekly with all Border Studies students (see the Program Courses section above for more information)

    • Community Spanish Classes, which meet one evening per week for eight weeks

    • And for fluent Spanish speakers and other interested students, participation in the Tucson Language Justice Collective which provides an opportunity to engage in local organizing around language justice

    Community Classes

    The Community Spanish Classes are open to members of the Tucson social justice community and are divided into three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Each class is taught by a native speaker teacher or volunteer teacher.

    • The beginner class is designed for students with one year of classes or less and focuses on gaining basic conversational skills

    • The intermediate level, geared toward students with one to two years of classes, provides students with the opportunity for extra speaking practice on the weekly themes that are explored in the Español in the Borderlands course as well as some instruction in grammar.

    • The advanced level functions as a book club and is discussion-based, with an emphasis on vocabulary development and is designed for students with three or more years of classes.

    Language Justice Collective

    The Language Justice Collective (LJC) of Tucson is dedicated to facilitating multilingual spaces by eliminating language barriers and building community. We work towards social justice by supporting community organizing efforts through interpretation, classes, and workshops. Our collective is committed to promoting equal rights for all by addressing the root causes of oppression. Some opportunities that BSP students have had through the LJC:

    • attending Language Justice Workshop with Tucson community members

    • interpreting for events that BSP has put on for the community

    • interpreting for BSP students during travel excursions

    • interpreting during virtual meetings held in Zoom

    • translating materials for community members and organizations

    Preparation in Spanish

    While there is no formal language requirement for the program, you are encouraged to arrive in Tucson with basic Spanish conversational skills. Those students that have no experience with the language may choose to gain some language skills through one of the following:

    • Skype lessons or Language School through Proyecto Lingüístico Quetzalteneco (PQL) in Guatemala

    • Spanish for Foreigners Program at UNAM in Mexico City

    • An intensive semester at your home institution

    How BSP participants improve their skills in Spanish

    • By living with a Spanish-speaking or bilingual homestay family while in Tucson

    • By taking advantage of opportunities when appropriate to interact in Spanish throughout extended travel seminars in Mexico

    • Choosing to read some assignments in Spanish or write field journal entries in Spanish

    • By participating in a field study placement where Spanish is the dominant language

    • Engaging in a language exchange with a Tucson community member

    • Immersing themselves in the language as much as possible through Spanish language podcasts (Radio Ambulante), T.V., music, news (Democracy Now! en español), etc.

    • Community Language Classes with native speaking volunteer teachers who facilitate classes for Border Studies students alongside the Tucson social justice community

    • Guest speakers in Spanish and other classes

    • Weekly content-based language classes that incorporate salient topics such as border enforcement and militarization, free trade agreements, food justice, language justice, ethnic studies, art, etc.

    • Advanced and native/heritage Spanish speakers may be eligible to participate in the Language Justice Collective, which supports students in gaining skills in interpretation between Spanish and English

“My learning experience was packed and stressful. It was also hugely satisfying and enlightening. I’m ready for anything now.” ~Program Participant


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The Border Studies Program (hereafter: “Program”) is designed to assist students in acquiring more complex and sophisticated analyses of issues …

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(765) 983-1424

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