Vanderbilt Migration and Refugee Initiative

image courseVanderbilt Migration and Refugee Initiative, in collaboration with Humanities 1610; Law 7128; Political Science ; OACS and the Literature and Law Seminar of the Robert Penn Warren Center.

Events (fall, 2017):

Tuesday, September 12th, 6PM: Franz Kafka’s “The Trial” (Cohen 203)

  • Joseph K. awakes one morning, to find two strange men in his room, telling him he has been arrested. Joseph is not told what he is charged with, and despite being “arrested,” is allowed to remain free and go to work. But despite the strange nature of his arrest, Joseph soon learns that his trial, however odd, is very real, and tries desperately to spare himself from the court’s judgement.

Thursday, September 14th: DACA panel, Vanderbilt Law School (Flynn Auditorium), noon-1PM

A panel discussion about the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program will be held Thursday, Sept. 14, at Vanderbilt Law School.


President Trump has ordered that DACA be curtailed as early as March, which would leave about 800,000 young adults subject to deportation. The five-year-old policy allows people brought to the United States illegally as children to remain in the country and gives them the right to work legally.


The public is invited to attend the noon to 1 p.m. forum, “The End of DACA: Legal and Policy Issues,” in Flynn Auditorium at the law school. There is no charge to attend.

Panelists will include:

  • Spring Miller, assistant dean for public interest and lecturer in law at Vanderbilt Law School;
  • Karla McKanders, clinical professor of law at Vanderbilt Law School;
  • Robert Barsky, professor of French, English and Jewish studies, and professor of law at Vanderbilt University; and
  • Jonathan Hiskey, associate professor of political science at Vanderbilt University.


The forum will be hosted by La Alianza and the Immigration Law Society, both student organizations at the law school.

Monday, September 18th, 4:10PM: Spring Miller, Assistant Dean for Public Interest, Vanderbilt Law School (Cohen 203)

  • Spring Miller creates public interest law opportunities for Vanderbilt Law students and facilitates entry into public interest law careers for students and recent graduates. In addition to mentoring and advising students seeking careers in public interest law, she is responsible for outreach to public-interest and public-sector employers and for developing pro bono projects and externship opportunities for students. Dean Miller also teaches the Immigrant Advocacy Practicum clinic.

Tuesday, September 19th, 6PM: “Death and the Maiden” (Buttrick Hall 102)

  • A political activist is convinced that her guest is a man who once tortured her for the government. A Roman Polanski film, based on the play by the same name by Joseph Dorfman, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Rafael Yglesias.

Wednesday, September 20th, 10:00AM-10:50 and 5-6PM: Robert Barsky at the Humanities Symposium, Belmont University. The event will take place in Ayers Academic Center (JAAC) 4094 (Conference Room). This building sits on the corner of Wedgewood Ave and 15th.

  • 10:00-10:50AM, JAAC 4094. Featured Speakers Panel discussion and Q&A Session: Dr. Jere Surber, Dr. Melissa Snarr and Robert Barsky.

  • 5PM-6PM. Title: “Are We Home Yet? The Uncertainties of Vulnerable Migrants First Encounters with the Host Country”: The legal and narrative dynamics of host country interactions with migrants is an urgent topic for investigation, worldwide. With the on-going crisis in Syria, mounting gang violence in Central America, and other regions such as Eritrea, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, South Sudan, and Afghanistan under continued pressure, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for vulnerable migrants. And with the Trump administration’s approach to refugees and undocumented migrants,it’s clear that the issues surrounding the treatment, admission, and policing of migrants and asylum seekers will remain at the top of national agenda for years to come. In order to understand the impact of current debates and new legislation upon vulnerable migrants, I will discuss the narrative-law dynamic in the critical first encounters between forced migrants who have come to seek a new life in the United States, and officials charged with making front-line decisions that determine whether these newcomers are coming “home”, or risking prison and deportation.

Thursday, September 21st: Reflections on the Everyday Experiences of Refugees in America and the Constitution 5:00-6:00PM in Rand 308
The Preamble of the United States Constitution states that a more perfect union is formed by establishing justice, providing for the common defense, and promoting the general welfare of the people of the United States. Join us for a panel discussion that brings to light the everyday experiences of Nashville’s refugee community and the relevance of
the United States Constitution in the lives of refugees.

Monday, September 25th, 3:10PM: Karla McKanders, Vanderbilt Law School (Cohen 203)

  • Karla McKanders is an expert in immigration and refugee law. Her recent scholarship addresses gender and the law, civil and human rights, approaches to legislative and regulatory reforms of the U.S. immigration system and the international system for processing refugees. Professor McKanders directs the Immigration Clinic and teaches Refugee and Immigration Law. Her work has taken her throughout the U.S. and abroad teaching and researching the efficacy of legal institutions charged with processing migrants and refugees. In 2011, she received a Fulbright grant to lecture in Morocco at the University of Mohamad V. She continues to collaborate with faculty, lawyers and nonprofit organizations in the Middle East and North Africa addressing disparities in access to justice faced by immigrant and refugee populations.

September 26th, 6PM: Children of Men (Cohen 203)

  • Children of Men is a 2006 British-American dystopian thriller film directed and co-written by Alfonso Cuarón. The screenplay, based on P. D. James’ 1992 novel of the same name, was credited to five writers, with Clive Owen making un-credited contributions. The film takes place in 2027, where two decades of human infertility have left society on the brink of collapse. Illegal immigrants seek sanctuary in the United Kingdom, where the last functioning government imposes oppressive immigration laws on refugees. Owen plays civil servant Theo Faron, who must help a refugee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) escape the chaos. Children of Men also stars Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Charlie Hunnam.

Monday, October 2nd (all day): Professor James Hathaway, University of Michigan Law School

  • 10AM-11AM, Political Science Interview, Commons 363
  • Noon-1:30, Law School talk, Renaissance Room, Law School
  • 4:10-5:40PM: HUM 1610 (Cohen 203)
  • James C. Hathaway, the James E. and Sarah A. Degan Professor of Law, is a leading authority on international refugee law whose work is regularly cited by the most senior courts of the common law world. He is the founding director of Michigan Law’s Program in Refugee and Asylum Law and the Distinguished Visiting Professor of International Refugee Law at the University of Amsterdam. From 2008 to 2010, Professor Hathaway was on leave to serve as dean of the Melbourne Law School, where he established Australia’s first all-graduate (JD) law program. He regularly provides training on refugee law to academic, non-governmental, and official audiences around the world. Professor Hathaway’s publications include The Law of Refugee Status (2014), with Michelle Foster; Transnational Law: Cases and Materials (2013), with Mathias Reimann, Timothy Dickinson, and Joel Samuels;Human Rights and Refugee Law (2013); The Rights of Refugees Under International Law (2005); Reconceiving International Refugee Law (1997); and more than 80 journal articles. He is founding patron and senior adviser to Asylum Access, a nonprofit organization committed to delivering innovative legal aid to refugees in the global South, and counsel on international protection to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. Professor Hathaway sits on the editorial boards of the Journal of Refugee Studies, the Immigration and Nationality Law Reports, and

 District 9

  • District 9 is a 2009 science fiction film, which is partially presented in a found footage format by featuring fictional interviews, news footage, and video from surveillance cameras. The story, which explores themes of humanity, xenophobia, and social segregation, begins in an alternate 1982, when an alien ship appears over Johannesburg, South Africa. When a population of sick and malnourished insect-like aliens is found aboard the ship, the South African government confines them to an internment camp called District 9. Years later, during the government’s relocation of the aliens to another camp, one of the confined aliens named Christopher Johnson tries to escape with his son and return home, crossing paths with a bureaucrat named Wikus van der Merwe. The title and premise of District 9 were inspired by events in District Six, Cape Town, during the apartheid era.

Monday, October 16th – Tuesday, 17th: Georgia Cole, Joyce Pearce Junior Research Fellow in Development Studies, Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford University

  • Monday October 16th, 4:10-5:40PM: HUM 1610 (Cohen 203)
  • Tuesday, October 17th, 10AM-11AM, Political Science Interview, Commons 349
  • Tuesday, October 17th, 5PM-6PM, Robert Penn Warren Center
  • Georgia Cole holds the Joyce Pearce Junior Research Fellowship in Development Studies, and is currently completing her DPhil in International Development on the topic of ‘The Politics and Semiotics of the Cessation Clauses for Rwandan and Eritrean Refugees’. She is also working on a project to provide a comparative analysis of the politics of the post-liberation trajectories of the Eritrean and Rwandan states, and ‘Engendering Understandings of Faith-Based Humanitarian Responses to Displacement: Intersections between gender and religion in humanitarian interventions’ with Dr. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Chloe Lewis. Other interests include the position and importance of cycling in Eritrean politics.

Tuesday, October 17th, 6:00PM The Eritrean Exodus (with Georgia Cole)

  • Follow Chris Cotter, an American traveler, as he explores a common migration path through Ethiopia and into Israel, tracking the plight of Eritrean refugees. Chris and his crew visit several refugee camps, including the never-before-documented Afar region. The refugees tell stories of oppression, torture, and survival. Searching for solutions, Chris speaks to various NGOs and experts, including Assistant Secretary of State, Anne Richard. The outlook is bleak, but the spirit of the Eritrean refugees is hard to ignore.

Monday, October 23rd, 4:10-5:40: Paul Kramer, Associate Professor of History, Vanderbilt University; Clive Mentzel, Director of the Office of Active Citizenship and Service, Vanderbilt University (Cohen 203)

Fire at Sea

  • Winner of the Golden Bear for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival 2016, Gianfranco Rosi’s incisive, poignant and deeply moving portrait of the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa–and the humanitarian crisis occurring in the seas around it–is both a masterly work of documentary filmmaking and a timely call for urgent action. Situated 150 miles south of Sicily, Lampedusa has hit headlines as the first port of call for hundreds of thousands of African and Middle Eastern refugees hoping to make a new life in Europe. After spending months living on the island and engaging with its inhabitants, Rosi accumulated an incredible array of footage, portraying the history, culture and daily lives of the islanders. Focusing on 12-year-old Samuele, as he explores the land and attempts to gain mastery of the sea, the film slowly builds a breathtakingly naturalistic portrait of the Lampedusan people and the events that surround them. The result is a lyrical, poetic and searingly powerful documentary that casts neither judgement nor aspersions, but simply shows the world to the viewer–to utterly devastating effect.

Monday, Oct. 30th, 4:10-5:40: Louisa Saratora (Asst. State Refugee Coordinator; William Mwizerwa, Executive Director of Legacy Mission Village; Thach Gatluak, president and CEO of CEO of Nashville International Center for Empowerment (NICE); Fozia Mohamed, Adult Education Liaison for NICE  (Cohen 203)


  • A documentary crew accompany a group of illegal immigrants crossing the Border, but their plans run afoul when they are captured by a gang of sadistic radicals in New Mexico.

Saturday, November 4th and Monday November 6th: Representing Muslim Americans Post-Trump, with Karla McAnders, Spring Miller and Sahir Aziz, Vanderbilt Law School.

Monday, November 6th, 10:00AM (Robert Penn Warren Center) and 4:10-5:40 (Cohen 203): Professor Sahir Aziz

  • Sahar Aziz is Professor of Law, Chancellor’s Social Justice Scholar, and Middle East and Legal Studies Scholar at Rutgers University Law School.  Professor Aziz’s scholarship adopts an interdisciplinary approach to examine intersections of national security, race, and civil rights with a focus on the adverse impact of national security laws and policies on racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the U.S.  Her research also investigates the relationship between authoritarianism, terrorism, and rule of law in Egypt.  She is the founding director of the interdisciplinary Rutgers Center for Security, Race, and Civil Rights. She is also a faculty affiliate of the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University-Newark.  She teaches courses on national security, critical race theory, evidence, torts, and Middle East law.

Stranger in Paradise

  • In a classroom newly arrived refugees learn a lesson about multifarious Europe. Operating at the intersection of fiction and documentary, Stranger in Paradise reflects on the power relations between Europeans and refugees in a candid fashion.

Monday, November 13th, all day: Luigi Achille

  • 10AM-11AM, Political Science Interview, Commons 349
  • 4:10-5:40PM: HUM 1610 (Cohen 203)
  • Luigi holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in political anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). His research and writing focus on everyday forms of political engagement and disengagements, citizenship, nationalism, Palestinian issue, refugees and refugee camp, and the politics of space. His research and writing are based on extensive fieldwork conducted primarily in the Middle East. Ethnographic in approach, his work has led him to spend long time living and working in the urban Palestinian refugee camps of Jordan. His last research project has culminated with the publication of a book about the significance of the “ordinary” in the process of political self-fashioning in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, Palestinian Refugees and Identity: Nationalism, Politics and the Everyday (I.B. Tauris, 2015).

Tuesday, November 14th, 5:00PM, Luigi Achille on Narrative and Law (Robert Penn Warren Center) and 7:00PM: Discussion and viewing of A Bigger Splash, with Luigi Achille (Cohen 203)

  • A Bigger Splash is a 2015 English-language Italian-French psychological thriller drama film directed by Luca Guadagnino and written by Alain Page and David Kajganich, based on the film La Piscine. The film stars Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson. The film was named after David Hockney’s 1967 painting of the same title. It competed for the Golden Lion at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival.

The Good Postman

  • The Good Postman is a 2016 documentary film directed by Tonislav Hristov. The film offers a tragicomic perspective on the ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015 from a small Bulgarian village located near the Turkish border. The village has suffered decades of economic and demographic decline. The handful of remaining residents observe refugee families from Syria and elsewhere as they cross the border, and ponder inviting them to settle in the vacant village houses. This proposal, advocated by the village postman and main protagonist Ivan, polarizes opinions and brings into focus the local people’s own fears, hopes and disappointments. Although the film uses a semi-fictionalised plot, all characters portray themselves in a narrative which closely follows real events which unfolded in Bulgaria during 2014 and 2015.

Thursday, February 8th at noon (Alexander Room, Law School) and Friday, February 9th 4PM (Robert Penn Warren Center): Debbie Anker

  • Deborah Anker is Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC).  She has taught law students at Harvard for over 30 years.  Author of a leading treatise, Law of Asylum in the United States, Anker has co-drafted ground-breaking gender asylum guidelines and amicus curiae briefs.  Professor Anker is one of the most widely known asylum scholars and practitioners in the United States; she is cited frequently by international and domestic courts and tribunals, including the United States Supreme Court.  Deborah Anker is a pioneer in the development of clinical legal education in the immigration field, training students in direct representation of refugees and creating a foundation for clinics at law schools around the country.