Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program Presents Social Justice Project ‘Faceless America’

On Nov. 2, the sophomore members of Boston College’s Gabelli Presidential Scholars Program held a panel discussion about advocacy for undocumented immigrants as their social justice project, titled The Faceless America, in Gasson Hall. 

“We all found that immigration and especially undocumented immigrants weren’t always so comprehensively covered,” Fran Hodgens, a Gabelli scholar and CSOM ’24, said. “So we thought this was a good opportunity to educate people and get people connected with resources.”

Marilynn Johnson, director of Global Boston—a digital history project on immigration in the Boston area—and a history professor at BC, shared her work on urban social relations and discussed the history of immigrants coming to Massachusetts since the 1960s.

“Our openness to refugees has certainly made a century in recent years, especially after 9/11 a new fear provoked by the war on terrorism, and the pandemic more recently we have seen a reduction of immigrants admitted,” Johnson said.

Denzil Mohammed, director of the Immigrant Learning Center Public Education Institute, discussed the social impact that immigrants have within the United States by founding various companies. 

“They have been always creating businesses in the USA that become iconic American brands like Kraft mac and cheese—nothing gets more American than that,” Mohammed said

He also noted the ambition and inherent entrepreneurial traits of immigrants coming into the United States and Boston.

Mohammed ended his portion of the presentation with a YouTube video about Yessy Feliz—an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who started a pet business in Boston called Tails. Feliz became the first business owner in her family.

“When you start investigating the stories of immigrants, there’s a lot behind it,” Mohammed said.

The attendees were then invited to the back of the room where the sophomore scholars displayed posters featuring different organizations that support undocumented immigrants.

At one of the tables, Kenneth Heikes, a Gabelli scholar and CSOM ’24, shared his experience within the YMCA of Greater  Boston. He said it hosts various adult education and English classes in which immigrants are taught about pop culture and can get both reading and writing practice.

Hodgens presented his poster on the Office for Refugees and Immigrants which he said serves and hosts programs for immigrants in Massachusetts to help them succeed. 

When discussing how The Faceless America project came to be, Hodgens said the Gabelli scholars made a list of organizations from their summer PULSE Program—a required service project based in Boston during the summer of freshman year. After compiling a list of the places they all volunteered at, they found similarities. 

“We narrowed that down to a few common threads,” he said. 

Hodgens said the scholars aim to highlight issues surrounding immigration that might not be as well known in the BC community, such as the lack of affordable housing in Boston for immigrants. 

“People have a wide array of talents, especially within the student body at BC, so it’s a good idea to keep them looped in,” he said. 

As for the impact of The Faceless America project, Hodgens said the scholars hope that attendees will continue to have conversations about the contemporary issues of undocumentedimmigrants. 

“Our goal is to bring in a wide range of students to get people talking about some of these changes because some are pretty surprising,” Hodgens said. 

Featured Image by Nicole Vagra / Heights Staff

November 7, 2021