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Student Organizers’ Reflections on the Immigrant City Council Candidate Forum

By: Brooke Long, Brittany Loving, Yenifer Portelles, and Nick Anguiano


(photo by The Citizen)

For those of us who have lived or studied at JMU’s campus, we can argue that the “JMU bubble” is undeniable. Students become accustomed to operating their day-to-day responsibilities exclusively on campus, with the exception of the occasional Walmart visit or downtown sprawl. Even though JMU is located in a multiculturally rich city, it continues to exist independently from Harrisonburg.

Luckily, our Communication Studies course, “Immigrant Advocacy,” has provided our small team of four with an outlet to partner with the Harrisonburg community in advocating for immigrants’ rights. On October 6th, COSPU, a local nonprofit dedicated to closely working with Hispanic immigrant communities, hosted the Harrisonburg City Council Candidate Forum. In the weeks leading up to the forum, we met with COSPU and other supporting organizations to plan, organize, and promote the event.

Despite the forum’s success, we faced many challenges during our preparation. While we faced expected miniscule challenges, such as recruiting translators and frantically passing out flyers at the last minute, our biggest challenge was learning our role as students within this project. As JMU students, we recognize that most student involvement within the Harrisonburg community is mostly performed out of an academic obligation, and while we were in the same position going into this project, we wanted the organizations we were working with to trust our commitment to the cause. In addition, planning the forum reminded us that we do not know how to best advocate for immigrants in Harrisonburg, and that we can learn a lot from our community leaders.

From our preparation of the candidate forum, we learned the value of knowing our role as students within something much greater than ourselves. While we have plenty of skills to offer, we learned that we simply do not have all the answers. Most importantly, we learned the value of community, especially within Harrisonburg. We are thankful that COSPU and other supporting organizations invited us to serve alongside them in advocating for immigrants.

WATCH:  Associate professor of communications studies Carlos Alemán asks and candidates answer, “What has been the biggest shortcoming of the Harrisburg City Council in serving the immigrant community?”

Read and see full coverage of the forum on The Citizen.

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