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OHIO students learn about humanitarian issues at the US-Mexico border

Published: August 29, 2022 Author: Maya Meade

Professor of Counseling and Higher Education Peter Mather and five Ohio Fellows - Carlee Allen, a senior majoring in political science and pursuing a certificate in Law, Justice & Culture; Kayla Bennett; Camilla Hibbard; Sarah Ladipo, a senior majoring in philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences and a Cutler Scholar; and Madison Schroer, a junior majoring in sociology and psychology and pursuing a minor in Spanish – learned about humanitarian issues at the Texas-Mexico border during spring break.

Mather, who has been engaged in service learning and community engagement projects throughout his career, reached out to the Ohio Fellows program during the 2021-22 academic year to see if he could lead a new project. 

A non-traditional scholars program, the Ohio Fellows Program fosters in-depth learning and engagement through close collaboration with faculty, peers, and alumni. Mather’s past experiences at the border and in taking students to Central America as part of research and service-learning projects let him to creating this new program with the Ohio Fellows Program. 

On March 4, 2022, the five Ohio Fellows traveled to meet Mather in Brownsville, Texas.

While at the border, Mather and the Ohio Fellows partnered with two humanitarian organizations in Brownsville and McAllen, Texas that would allow students to learn about the issues immigrants are facing as they enter the United States. His goal was to familiarize the students with the human experience of the people who are in transit and help students understand why people move across the border.

“What is that journey like for them? And then what are some of the policy issues in the U.S. that are impacting the people that transition across the border, and then what kind of humanitarian aid is offered?” Mather said.

The first organization that the students worked with was Team Brownsville, an independent organization set up at the Brownsville bus station that puts together packets for people seeking asylum. The organization provides food, water, and necessities in addition to legal and medical assistance for the asylum seeker community in the cities of Matamoros and Reynosa, Mexico and the families released by U.S. authorities in the United States at the Brownsville Bus Station. 

After spending time with Team Brownsville, the group traveled to McAllen and worked with Catholic Charities of McAllen. Pregnant women and families with children found support from Catholic Charities.

The Ohio Fellows worked with Catholic Charities during the spring break trip.
The Ohio Fellows worked with Catholic Charities during the spring break trip. Pregnant women and families with children found support from Catholic Charities. Photo by Kayla Bennett.

“It was truly a transformative experience that I will remember for the rest of my life,” said Sarah Lapido. “I was able to talk one on one to individuals that traveled from far and wide to cross the border. It was impactful to talk to people that traveled with their families and even pregnant women that traveled by themselves.”

“There were lots of people in transit there. And they basically have this big warehouse-size building,” Mather says. “We were helping people there. They have a big storage of supplies and clean clothes and stuff. And people can shower there and things, but we were basically going into the storage area. They told us what kind of clothes they needed, and again, they were about to go off to stay with sponsors or family members.” 

Mather says that one thing that makes traveling with the Ohio Fellows interesting is that they are interdisciplinary. He values the differences among the students he traveled with and actively facilitated conversations about the things they were doing and seeing so that each student's perspective was heard. 

The Ohio Fellows.
On a trip to Brownsville, Texas, the Ohio Fellows went to see the SpaceX Launch Facility on March 5, 2022. Photo by Kayla Bennett.

“The whole experience in Texas was life-changing, and it couldn’t have happened without Pete,” said journalism senior Kayla Bennett. “Being able to join Pete during his excursion was such an honor, especially doing it alongside my peers. I learned so much new information that I will carry with me through my career as a journalist. I’m truly thankful to have had an eye-opening experience and thank Pete for putting it together.”

To read more about Mather’s travels and see his blog post from the trip with the Ohio Fellows, see About Project | Mapping the Future of Student Affairs (mappingsafuture.com).