The world’s population is on the move, and not necessarily by choice.
There are more than 35.9 million refugees worldwide, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Cornell’s Einaudi Center for International Studies has responded to this global trend by launching a migration studies minor.
“Bringing this issue [of migration] to the forefront of how the Einaudi Center helps to lead global research and engagement on campus has been one of our primary goals over the past few years,” said Dr. Jason Hecht Ph.D. ’14, the center’s associate director for academic programming.
Prof. Debra Castillo, comparative literature, called the migration studies minor — which aims to create a structure in which undergraduates can study migration — “very timely.” However, few universities offer such a program, despite the current global context.
“We are proud to be on the cutting edge in this area, and look forward to growing the minor in partnership with the first cohorts of students who elect to take it as a course of study,” Hecht said.
To complete the minor, a student must register during or before their sixth semester, attend five migration-related campus events, take the introductory course — ILR 2810: Migration: Histories, Controversies, and Perspectives — and four elective courses. Over 50 classes are offered for minor credit, from three of Cornell’s colleges and from over 15 departments.
Unlike many humanities and social science minors, the migration studies minor does not require students to focus on any particular region, ethnic group, country or religion — a feature that is intentional. Instead, the minor aims to “draw students outside of their major fields and to extend their knowledge beyond a single country,” according to the program website.
The minor is structured to encourage engagement beyond the classroom, including community-based research and collaboration with local partner organizations. Some of the classes that count for minor credit, for example, teach research methods and collaborate with the Cornell Farmworker Program.
Other courses, such as FGSS 3400: Refugees and the Politics of Vulnerability: Intersections of Feminist Theory and Practice — taught by Prof. Jane Juffer, English and feminist, gender and sexuality studies — allow students to see the ramifications of immigration policy firsthand.
Juffer said she brings students to the federal detention center near Buffalo so they can both talk about migration and “see what it’s like.” She added that she believes the migration minor is also relevant for STEM-oriented students, especially those interested in a career in healthcare.
“If students are planning a career in policy-making, consultancy, or international business, they will need to know about migration,” Prof. María Cristina García, American studies, said.
The migration studies minor is not the only University initiative focused on the increasing global flow of people; Cornell launched its inaugural Global Grand Challenge, an event series sponsored by the Vice Provost of International Affairs, with the theme of migration in fall 2019.
Prof. Stephen Yale-Loehr, law, a member of the planning committee for the challenge, described it as “a three-year effort by Cornell to get people from across campus, not just in Ithaca but also Cornell Tech, who are interested in migration of plants, animals and humans to collaborate with each other.”
The Grand Challenge sponsored the Cornell Johnson Museum’s fall 2019 exhibit, “Where the Light Gets In,” which brought together an international team of artists to explore themes of migration, exile, displacement and immigration.
As part of this challenge, Cornell will provide grants for interdisciplinary research on migration, work with visiting scholars and outside organizations such as Ithaca Welcomes Refugees and expand education and engagement opportunities for students.