BSP Alumni Q&A – Keiler BeersPosted: October 20, 2014
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
School: Whitman College
BSP Year: Spring 2013
– What role did the Border Studies Program play in your undergraduate education?
It’s hard to answer this question because I have a hard time imagining my life without having done BSP. I came back to Whitman College invigorated, with a mind on fire. I came down to the border knowing that immigration interested me as a single issue, but I left with a more complex understanding of how migration is intricately tied to nearly every other element of social justice. While my BSP semester undoubtedly centered around migration, it gave me the tools to be able to see every aspect of the world around me through a more critical (and maybe heavy-hearted) lens, whether it’s environmental justice, indigenous rights or patterns of global apartheid.
The BSP also turned me on to issues of mass incarceration and criminalization, which completely transformed my senior year and my future career interests. I worked as a youth counselor at the Walla Walla Juvenile Justice Center, participated in a community-based research project on a tattoo removal program for former gang members, and wrote my senior thesis on immigrant detention as a contemporary form of slavery. In each of these experiences I was able to think in depth about the intersections of crime, race, identity and power through a more astute political backdrop because of the conversations and experiences I had in the borderlands.
– What are your post-graduation plans and how do you think the BSP helped prepare you for these experiences?
I am working at Posada Esperanza, a transitional housing shelter for women and children migrants in Austin, Texas. BSP, in particular the travel seminars into Guatemala, Chiapas and Sonora gave me an incredible window into what the migrant journey entails. Meeting these families in Austin now I think I have much more empathy and respect for what they went through to get to where they are.
Something I hadn’t anticipated was how well BSP would prepare me for any career, even one outside of immigration. At the end of the semester, I had brief worries that if I were to devote myself to anything outside of what we directly studied that semester, I would feel some sort of guilt for leaving those issues and populations. But I quickly realized, with help from the BSP staff, was that the semester had exposed me to such a wide range of possibilities that I now feel blessed with how overwhelming my interests and choices for careers appear. Far from limiting myself, my interests and passions expanded wildly after spending time on the border.
– Is there anything in particular you would like to share with undergraduate students considering the Border Studies Program?
I was initially somewhat hesitant about participating in BSP. No one from my college had ever done it before, and before starting there was a part of me that wished I had chosen a study abroad program in a foreign country. However, what I quickly realized was that BSP gave me something that no other program would be able to: a critical window into my own country in what almost seemed like an alternate reality for five months. I went to school in a small town in rural Washington state, encompassed by the proverbial “bubble” that I’m sure many other schools like mine share. Living in a large metropolitan city allowed me to not only engage in new politics, but also have social experiences that were unavailable to me at Whitman or in Walla Walla.
BSP will completely transform the way you look at the world, your own communities, and your place within either. It was definitely not an easy semester, but it was by the far the most rewarding of my time as an undergrad.
– You’ve left Tucson twice now, once after the program and once after your time here this past summer. Is there something about the Borderlands you miss most when you leave?
I miss the feeling of urgency that coursed through every facet of my life in Tucson. There was this constant sense that something important was happening today and tomorrow. It makes for an incredibly fertile ground to study just about any issue of political/social importance. Whether it’s police militarization, racially imbalanced school closures, immigration or the environment, it always seemed that each came to the forefront in the borderlands in a way that was so tangible and immediate that it made constant engagement not only possible, but often necessary. I will admit, life in Tucson can sometimes feel exhausting to me as a result. But there is something really incredible about being surrounded by such a strong community of activists who are seeking to combat injustices in each of these arenas on a daily basis.