Up close and personal
to Robert Neustadt, seeing is believing -- when it comes to designing
curriculum based on social and political issues, Neustadt encourages his
students to witness the reality of life on the U.S./Mexico border
firsthand, rather than only read or hear about it through the media. This
direct approach provides students with an experience that is more beneficial,
educational, and – in many cases – even life-altering.
are shocked to know the realities of the border,” Neustadt, a professor of
Spanish and the Director of Latin American Studies, says. “I encourage students
to draw their own conclusions, and many times, when they see it close up,
they’re shocked. Taking students to the border has been a profoundly moving and
educational experience, both for me and for my students.”
Matters of perspective
earned his master’s degree in Spanish from the University of Oregon in 1990 and
his doctorate in 1995. In one class, he and his peers took a day trip to a
community where migrant laborers were working in agriculture.
got to speak with the agricultural workers and learned a little bit about their
situation,” Neustadt says. “I think that experience planted the seed that later
grew into my border fieldtrips.”
2010, Neustadt began leading yearly, five-day fieldtrips that take students to
southern Arizona and across the border into Mexico to provide a raw, firsthand
look into some of the nation’s most prominent social and political issues.
spend the semester studying the border and immigration from as many different
perspectives as possible,” Neustadt says. “The fieldtrip is the culminating
moment in the course where people really take a journey to the bottom of their
souls and recognize the humanity that lies hidden behind all of the political
In their footsteps
of these fieldtrips start on a ranch in southeastern Arizona located alongside
the dividing wall between the two countries.
are places where the wall just stops,” Neustadt says. “It’s kind of astounding
to walk along this huge fifteen-foot wall and then get to a place where there’s
no wall anymore and realize that as far as an immigration deterrent, it’s not
much of a deterrent.”
spending a night on the ranch, Neustadt and his students drive to Nogales,
Arizona and walk across the border into Mexico. There, they visit a number of
migrant aid shelters and listen to accounts from those who have been deported.
Students then head out to the desert themselves and spend a couple of days
walking trails that many migrants take on their way across the borderlands.
Here they observe the work of No More Deaths, a humanitarian organization that leaves food, water, and
blankets for migrants on their journey.
we’ll meet migrants that are traveling through the desert and get to talk with
them,” Neustadt says. “And we also talk with Border Patrol, so we get both
believes these experiences encourage his students to bond as they seek the
truth behind the headlines.
it feels as if I never taught anything until I started taking students on these
trips to the border,” Neustadt says. “The students become friends and relate to
one another on a level that is just so much deeper than a traditional class,
and they relate to me in a way that is much more open.”
Giving back to the community
Neustadt also co-produced a CD of music and spoken word titled Border Songs.
As a producer, Neustadt contacted artists from around the world, all of whom
donated their work. The project is donating one hundred percent of the proceeds to
No More Deaths.
“I’m quite proud of the album, and I feel very
grateful that all of these extraordinary artists were willing to combine forces
and put this compilation out," Neustadt says.
his work, both in and out of the classroom, Neustadt received the Provost Award for Faculty
Excellence in Global Learning in 2012.
nice to receive recognition for what you do,” Neustadt says. “I was nominated
by quite a few colleagues who wrote a really flattering letter. It felt
addition to his yearly fieldtrips, Neustadt also keeps students involved at
home through work with related extracurricular activities. One such example is
his role as a member on the organizing committee of “Beyond the
Border: the Wall, the People and the Land,” an art exhibit recently held at
the Coconino Center for the Arts.
event, which showcased art of various media, involved Neustadt’s students
translating artists’ statements and biographies from English into Spanish.
Students also provided guided tours of the exhibit, in Spanish, to local elementary
and high school children.